FRUIT INSPECTION

Photo by PhotoMIX Company on Pexels.com

FRUIT INSPECTION

Matthew 7:15-20 NET

15 “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.

Today’s actual command from Jesus is translated by the words “watch out” in the NET version. Other translations say “beware” or “be on your guard.” Jesus had used that word already in his sermon on the mount when he told his apostles to be careful not to display their righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise, they would have no reward with their Father in heaven (Matthew 6:1). In that passage, he was warning them that what they wanted to happen could be blocked if they did something with the wrong motive.

In this passage, Jesus warned his apostles that false prophets would come (15a).

I want to stop here and note that if Jesus is saying that false prophets would come, he is admitting that there would also be true prophets. If Jesus had meant to say that there would be no true prophets, then he would not have given his instruction this way. If he had intended to say that the Holy Spirit would cease revealing God’s will through prophets in the generation after he ascended, then his instruction to test the prophets would be useless.

What I am saying is that Jesus implied the ministry and function of prophecy would continue into the church age. He said himself that he had not come to abolish the prophets (Matthew 5:17). We need to stop and let that sink in because one of the ways people have misapplied Jesus’ words here is to essentially dismiss all prophecy as illegitimate. Jesus is saying the opposite. He’s saying that throughout the church age, there will be a mixture of both true and false prophets within the visible church community.

The Holy Spirit will continue to give believers in our congregations the gift of prophecy. Paul told the Corinthians “To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. For one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, and another the message of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things” (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). So, as long as the Holy Spirit stays down here with us, we can expect him to provide individuals within our congregations who have prophetic gifts.

Another thing that I have to note here is what a prophetic gift is. We are used to thinking of prophecy as foretelling the future. A person with a prophetic gift may reveal something about the future, but that is not his or her primary responsibility. Prophecy as defined by the Old Testament prophets is less about predicting the future, and more about revealing what God wants in the present. A prophet is a spokesperson for God.

We can also get help by comparing the function of a prophet with that of a priest. A priest serves as an intermediary between human beings and God. A prophet serves as an intermediary between God and human beings. The priest serves God on behalf of the people. A prophet communicates with the people on behalf of God.

So, a false prophet in today’s context is someone who claims to speak for God, yet says things that did not originate from heaven. That person is either deceived and passes along the deception without realizing it, or that person is intentionally misrepresenting his or her words as coming from God when they are not.

Last week I mentioned that these false prophets are leaders of the easy way. They look like genuine men and women of God. These false prophets are a problem because they will appear within the visible church. If they actually represented other religions, we would not be tempted to listen to them. But they will come to us in sheep’s clothing. Some will actually be convinced that they are true believers.

Jesus warned his apostles — and all of us who follow Christ after them — to watch out for those false prophets.

He warned them to look beyond outward appearance (15b).

Those false prophets will come to us in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are voracious wolves. Jesus warned us that we would not have to travel to Tibet and climb Mount Everest to find these false prophets. We won’t have to come to them, they will come to us. They will infiltrate our congregational meetings, our Bible studies, and our prayer meetings.

Also, they are not going to be wearing Nazi uniforms, or t-shirts that say “false prophet.” They are going to look like us. In our study of 1 John in Sunday School, we encountered this verse: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us, because if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But they went out from us to demonstrate that all of them do not belong to us” (1 John 2:19). John was speaking of an entire cult group that was at first part of the visible congregations of believers, but broke away from them and started their own separate groups. One of the purposes of false prophets is to do that: to teach false doctrine within a group of Christians and lead them astray so that they split from the true believers and start an alternative group.

Jesus is telling us to look beyond the visible appearance because that is not going to be proof as to whether someone is a true prophet or a false prophet. They will appear harmless like a sheep but inwardly they are voracious wolves. They will look like they want to just fit in and get along with everybody. But their purpose will be to divide and destroy.

In that context, Jesus told them to inspect the fruit the teaching produced (16-18).

He switched metaphors on us. He said we will recognize them by their fruit. Sheep and wolves don’t produce fruit, but trees do. The leaders of the easy way will look like any other tree of the orchard, but the fruit they bear will be bad. The lives of those they lead will be disobedient and ungodly. That is how they can be recognized. The promoters of the easy way will end in destruction – by fire. The people who follow them will suffer the same fate. They will have built their houses on the wrong foundation, and it is only a matter of time in a world of rain, floods, and winds before such shoddy workmanship will be revealed.

What I am hearing Jesus say is that we should be careful to assume that everyone who appears to be a Christian is actually a genuine Christian. Some who appear to be true will eventually prove themselves false. We will discover the false from the true by looking at the lives of their listeners.

Now, I have to admit that it’s very difficult to engage in that kind of fruit inspection, and it seems to me that very little of it is being done. It is much easier to choose to follow another person’s spiritual leadership based on criteria that are easier to recognize — like denominational loyalty, or the size of the last group they lead. It’s easier to judge them on the basis of how they appeal to you subjectively — like giving them the thumbs up because they appear young enough to be healthy or old enough to be mature. Or, maybe they look like a preacher you enjoyed before. Or, maybe they don’t.

But we have to go beyond the visible and the subjective. Jesus commands us to perform fruit inspection here. We have to choose to follow leaders who produce disciples of Jesus Christ. We have to ignore the attributes of the flesh and concentrate on evidence of the fruit of the Spirit. Paul taught that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Not one of those divine qualities can be identified by looking at a photograph. You have to look beyond the surface for good fruit.

This is another example of the fact that you have to realize what the context is, or else you might think Jesus is contradicting himself. Remember, that in the context of teaching us to love our enemies, Jesus told us not to judge them. But now he is talking about the false prophets who are going to appear among us, and he is telling us to judge them. He says we will recognize them by their fruit. That means we have to be on the lookout for signs of bad fruit. Bad fruit has rot spots. Bad fruit smells off. Bad fruit attracts fruit flies. Anyone working in the produce department at the grocery store is going to recognize that bad fruit and discard it.

In the same way, Jesus taught that we should endorse some teachers, and reject others (19-20).

He said that every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will recognize them by their fruit. It sounds like Jesus is talking about hell, here. I hope he is not. If he’s talking about hell, then we would have to wait for judgment day to find out who the false prophets are. That would not make sense, because Jesus has already told us that we would recognize them by their fruit. He didn’t say that we would recognize them on judgment day when he separates the sheep from the goats — or the wolves. No, I think Jesus is telling us that there will be a way for us to recognize the bad fruit and reject those teachers that produce it. Conversely, we will be able to recognize the good fruit and endorse those teachers that produce it.

In other words, our fruit inspection can work. Let me share with you two qualifications of an accurate fruit inspector. The first qualification is that a fruit inspector needs to be familiar with good fruit. A fruit inspector needs to know what makes fruit good, and what happens when it is bad. For you and me, that means we have to know the kind of fruit Jesus wants us to produce. We know this by focusing on the commands of Christ!

The second qualification is that a fruit inspector needs to know the environment that produces and keeps a crop of good fruit. When you open a package that is supposed to be grapes, but it’s raisins instead, you know that the fruit has been exposed to the wrong environment. For you and me, that means that we have to have a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit within us can help us to recognize the Holy Spirit’s fruit in others.

Jesus’ command for today is to WATCH OUT for false prophets. They are among us, and their disciples are among us. It is not always going to be easy to spot these false prophets by the things they say. We need to be sensitive to the bad fruit — the results of the false teachings. The best way to inspect someone else’s fruit is to be fully aware of what good fruit is like. To do that, we need to produce good fruit ourselves.

TIGHT SQUEEZE

Narrow Lane by Michael Trolove is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

TIGHT SQUEEZE

Matthew 7:13-14 NET

The typical way of explaining the words of Jesus in today’s text is that when he talks about going through the narrow gate, he is referring to those who want to be Christians. All other religions take the wide gate and walk the spacious way to their own destruction. But there is a problem with that approach. These are the words of Jesus directed toward the apostles who had already sworn their allegiance to him as their master. Everyone that he spoke to had already committed themselves to enter his coming kingdom.

13 “Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.
14 But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

So, what Jesus is talking about in today’s text is two ways of trying to enter the kingdom: the hard way and the easy way. The gate to the hard way is narrow, so people are less likely to choose it. The gate to the easy way is wide. It is very popular. He warns that only those who enter through the narrow gate will find life on the other side. Those who look for the easy way in will find destruction. Eternal life is not something everyone is born with. It is conditional, the result of the right choice.

Look at what Jesus says after this:

  • “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves.” (7:15).
  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven — only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ “Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!'” (7:21-23).

Leaders of the easy way are false prophets, but they look genuine. They prophesy and exorcise demons and do mighty works in Jesus’ name, and call him their lord. Jesus does not know them, and he didn’t send them, but they will be here claiming to do his will all the same. Inside they are wolves, not sheep.

These false prophets are a problem because they will appear within the visible church. If they actually represented other religions, we would not be tempted to listen to them. But they will come to us in sheep’s clothing. Some will actually be convinced that they are true believers.

How will we know a true Christian leader from a false one? Jesus also answered that question:

  • “You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.” (7:16-20).

The leaders of the easy way will look like any other tree of the orchard, but the fruit they bear will be bad. The lives of those they lead will be disobedient and ungodly. That is how they can be recognized. The promoters of the easy way will end in destruction – by fire. The people who follow them will suffer the same fate. They will have built their houses on the wrong foundation, and it is only a matter of time in a world of rain, floods, and winds before such shoddy workmanship will be revealed.

Our Lord wants us to seek his kingdom the hard way, not the easy way. We see that in today’s text.

The wide gate is the default (13c).

Jesus said that “the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” In modern terms, it is the default — the choice that everyone makes unless presented with some reason not to. This would be no problem if the gate one chooses does not matter. But it does matter. The default gate leads to a spacious road — a road where there is plenty of room for lots of people to travel on. Unfortunately, the destination of that road is destruction.

There was a large crowd listening to Jesus as he preached the sermon on the mount to his apostles. Many of them were considering committing their lives to Jesus and becoming his disciples. He was warning them that simply deciding to follow him was not enough. There would be many hard choices that they would have to make. Life as a Christian would not be easy. They would be tempted to casually accept Christ as their savior, and then live their normal lives otherwise. Jesus warned them that the Christian life is not a normal life, and if they tried to stay normal, it would lead them in the opposite direction, no matter what they professed.

That is his message to you and me today. The default gate is always accessible. There are no obstacles to it. It is the easiest choice to make, and the life it promises looks like the best of both worlds. We can get our names on God’s list, but can still live like we want to.

But the problem is…

Those who enter the wide gate will be destroyed (13b).

The future destiny of those who are looking to enter the easy way is clear and plain. Those who look for the easy way in will find destruction. Eternal life is not something everyone is born with. It is conditional, the result of the right choice.

Jesus is not the only one who said that the fate of the lost is destruction.

Paul says that they are “objects of wrath ready for destruction” (Romans 9:22). He says their “end is destruction” (Philippians 3:19). He says they “will undergo the penalty of” permanent destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

Peter agrees with Jesus and Paul on the fate of the lost as well; He says that “the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, by being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Peter 3:7).

Now with all this evidence in favor of what Jesus said about the fate of the lost, it might come as a surprise that most churches and most preachers are afraid to say what I just said. They insist that when Jesus and Paul and Peter talk about destruction they mean something else. Don’t believe it. Destruction means destruction. The second death is a second death, which will be permanent because there will be no resurrection from it. That is why choosing the right gate is so important.

The narrow gate is difficult to enter (14a).

Jesus said, “the gate is narrow and the way is difficult.” We have been studying the commands of Christ for many months now, and we can all agree that once we know what Jesus actually commanded, obeying those commands will be tough. He tells poor and suffering people to rejoice. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells ordinary people to influence the world when the world wants us to just be like them. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells ordinary Christians that their righteousness has to exceed that of religious professionals. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells us to reconcile with those who make us angry. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells us to stop lusting and be faithful to our spouses. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells us to be true to our word. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells us to love our enemies. It’s hard for us to do that.

The narrow gate is difficult to enter, but unfortunately…

The narrow gate is the only way to permanent life (14b).

He said, “the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” You and I have a choice. It’s not a simple choice of claiming to be a Christian or not. Remember, everyone that Jesus was talking to in today’s text had publically committed to following him. But Jesus warned them that there would be false teachers who would try to trip them up. He warned them that there would be those who claimed to be sheep but were actually wolves. He warned them that if they wanted to build true Christian lives they would have to build on the rock, not the sand.

The narrow gate is the only way to permanent life. People will tell you that everyone has a permanent life, and the issue is where you will spend it. Do not believe that lie. Only one way leads to life. The other way — the spacious way — the easy way — leads to destruction. Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life. Two permanent destinies.

Paul spoke of those two destinies. He said, “the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). If you are not in Christ Jesus, you won’t have life. Your payoff is death.

John spoke of those two destinies. He said that the “one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life” (1 John 5:12).

The author of Hebrews spoke of those two destinies. He said those who shrink back will perish, but those who have faith will preserve their souls (Hebrews 10:39).

Peter spoke of those two destinies. He said that those who are born again will be resurrected and receive a permanent inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-4). But the ungodly will experience destruction (2 Peter 3:7).

Now that we know what is at stake, let us return to the command of Christ highlighted in today’s text.

Christ commands us to enter through the narrow gate (13a).

Suppose you have decided to become a Christian. That is a good thing. You want to enter the kingdom that is coming down from the sky. That is a good ambition. Jesus warns us that there are two ways to take, the hard way and the easy way. The easy way will be a well-beaten path, a wide gate, and a spacious road that lots of people have taken before you. It will not make any demands on you other than what you claim. You claim to believe in Jesus — there will be many others on that road who make the same claim. You want to be a good person — lots of good people take that road.

It would seem to me that if we are really serious about entering the kingdom we would follow the instructions of the king. The king tells us to stay away from the wide gate. He warns us to stay off the spacious road. Actually following Jesus is going to be a tight squeeze. Staying on the narrow road is going to be a hard thing to do. But our king commands it.

When he returns, king Jesus is going to gather all the nations before him. He is going to “separate people one from another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:32). He will know every soul. He will determine who has taken the easy way, and who has taken the hard way. He will put the true sheep on his right, and the goats on his left. The goats will be condemned to the permanent punishment of the second death. The sheep will inherit permanent life. The choices we make today will determine which destiny we will experience.

Brothers and sisters, don’t take the easy way. Enter the narrow gate!

ASK HIM

ASK HIM

Photo by Arina Krasnikova on Pexels.com

Matthew 7:6-12 NET

6 Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces.
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.
8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 Is there anyone among you who, 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, although 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 In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.

I want to begin today’s message the same way I began last week. We need to learn to be consistent in our obedience to Christ’s commands. We don’t do this to get saved. Obedience cannot save you, even obedience to Christ’s commands. We are saved by faith in God’s grace, through the obedience and righteousness of Christ demonstrated by his death on the cross. That is the only means of our salvation. But once we come to Christ in faith, declaring him to be our king, and committing ourselves to become active in his coming kingdom, we have a choice. We can choose to act consistently with that faith and obey our new king, or we can choose to shipwreck our faith by disobeying him.

I believe anyone with true faith in Christ is going to want to live out that faith by obeying his commands. I also believe that this is God’s plan for saving others. Jesus told his apostles that they were the light of the world. He implied that if they obeyed his commands, it would light the way for others to come to him and be saved. You and I are recipients of the same promise, and that is why we also must consistently obey his commands.

The subject matter of Jesus’ command that today’s text focuses on appears to be prayer. This is the famous ASK, SEEK and KNOCK passage. Matthew 7:7 was one of the earliest verses I memorized as a child because it came with its own pneumonic device: A S K spells out ASK, SEEK and KNOCK. The basic principle of the kingdom that our king teaches us in today’s text is that the kingdom citizens are to seek divine help. It is not only wrong to try to accomplish kingdom tasks independent of prayer, it is direct disobedience. Prayer is not an option for us — it is the standard operating procedure in the kingdom.

We should ask God for the things that we need (7-8).

Jesus’ command goes like this: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” The resources we need to accomplish the objectives of the king in this life today are available for the asking.

Jesus did not have to say it that way. He could have told us to first look for resources all around us, then to pray as a last resort if we cannot find what we need. The temptation for many is to treat prayer that way. In fact, if we were honest, our prayers might sound something like Jimmy Stewart’s character Charlie Anderson in the movie Shenandoah:

“Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested it. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for the food we’re about to eat. Amen.”*

Later in the movie, Charlie tries to say the same prayer and stumbles through it. His family has been ravaged by war, and he realizes how stupid that prayer was. It was never about really asking God for anything. Our prayers are not supposed to be like that. They are designed to reflect our relationship with the supreme being who is sovereign over all life and holds all resources and power in his hands.

Unless we acknowledge our dependence upon God, we are going to have problems living in his kingdom on this earth today. James tells us that we do not have because we don’t ask (James 4:2).

A human father is not going to deny his child what he needs (9-11a).

Jesus said “Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” He said we know how to give good gifts to our children, even though we are not completely holy and righteous like God is. Penny and I raised three daughters, and we wanted to give them what they needed all the time. We didn’t want to see them go without.

Our heavenly Father is just waiting for us to ask (11b).

Jesus had already taught that prayer needed to flow from a genuine relationship with the Father (6:5-9), and that lack of forgiveness in our other relationships could also hinder our prayers (6:10-15). Now he points out one more thing that can keep us from getting what we need: lack of praying.

Jesus is not saying that God is testing us to see how strong we are and that only the fittest will keep praying and survive the ordeal, gaining the prize. Notice, he – once again – ties prayer and its outcome to our Father in the sky and our relationship with him. The barrier we need to overcome is not our Father’s reluctance to give, but our own resistance to depending on him.

Even we who are evil want to give good things to our kids, and God’s love far exceeds ours. He asks us to keep asking because we will be tempted to give up and try to handle things ourselves. How often have we thrown out a quick prayer, then, thrown up our hands as if to say “that didn’t work” and sought our solution elsewhere? A lack of dependence on prayer is a lack of faith in the one to whom we are praying. Our prayer life is not about getting stuff, it is about learning to depend on him.

The temptation is to give up too easily and end up settling for the rocks and snakes. We don’t appreciate them as much as bread and fish, but at least we did it our way. Staying on our knees long enough to get the fish sandwich is a lesson in humility and faith in a loving, giving Father. The longer we wait for God to intervene, the more credit he gets for the provision.

This principle also applies to human conflict (6, 12).

You see, there are two sections of today’s text that interpreters have a hard time figuring out. The first is verse six which says that we should not give what is holy to dogs or throw our pearls before pigs; otherwise, they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear us to pieces. People think this was just tacked on to the text because Jesus said it in another context. No, it has to do directly with what Jesus had just taught about being merciful toward our enemies so that we can win them to Christ. It also has a direct application to Jesus’ teaching on prayer here.

Here’s the logic of what Jesus taught: When someone does something bad to you or says something bad about you, you will be tempted to pass judgment upon them yourself. You will want to take the matter into your own hands. You will want to clear the land yourself, plow it, sow it, harvest it, and cook it yourself. You will want to retaliate against your enemy yourself and then maybe ask God to bless your efforts after you are through doing it all yourself. That is not what God wants you to do. That would be like giving what is holy to dogs or throwing your pearls before pigs. That is a wasted effort. In fact, doing it ourselves is dangerous. If you want to get stomped on and torn to pieces, do it yourself. But the wise way to deal with your enemies is to ASK God to intervene. The wise way to find a solution to your problem is to SEEK God’s solution. The wise choice is to knock on God’s door until he answers it, and provides a divine remedy.

The principle that Jesus is teaching is that we should go to God in prayer for our needs. The particular need that Jesus is addressing here is human conflict. You see someone with a speck of sawdust in his eye. All your human nature is going to scream to you to criticize him for that small thing wrong with him. You will be blind to all your imperfections. All you will see is a problem that you must fix. God’s answer: Before you do or say anything to that person about his problem, go to God in prayer.

The second text in today’s passage that interpreters often think is out of place is verse twelve. That is where Jesus tells us the golden rule: “In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.” Jesus has just told his apostles about prayer, earthly fathers, fish sandwiches, stones, and snakes. What does the golden rule have to do with depending on God and praying for what we need?

The answer — I think — is that Jesus is again addressing that particular context of human conflict. Someone has said something wrong or done something wrong. We have the choice of treating them like an enemy or treating them like we would want to be treated if it was us. We have the choice of being vengeful or merciful. We have the choice to overlook the sin or pounce on it. Remember the instruction of Jesus here has to do with how we treat others. So, he is still talking about situations in which believers can make the wrong choice resulting in the escalation of human conflict.

The solution that Jesus commands us to take whenever someone says or does something wrong is to resist the impulse to criticize, condemn, hold grudges or retaliate, and instead give the matter to God in prayer. Your Christian witness is a holy thing. Don’t give it to the dogs. Your testimony is a valuable pearl. It’s not hog slop. Don’t throw it to the pigs. Let God intervene in your life when there are times of conflict. God can take that crisis and turn it into a miracle of reconciliation. He can take that enemy and turn him into a Christian brother. He can take a hardened Philippian jailer and make him cry out “What do I have to do to be saved?”

Some things block this marvelous miracle of God. We can sabotage God’s plan by trying to do it ourselves. We can respond to every insult ourselves. We can seek revenge for every wrong ourselves. We can abolish the golden rule and treat every sin against us as a challenge for us to get even. We can relegate prayer to formal statements in church, refusing to allow it to become our secret weapon in interpersonal conflict.

But what would happen if we ordinary Christians began to take this command of Christ seriously? It would revolutionize the way we dealt with one another. If we stopped to pray before reacting and allowed God to solve the problem, he just might do it. Then, where would we be? People around us would start to notice. They would begin to wonder where we got the spiritual strength we have.

Wherever Jesus went, he drew people to God by performing miracles. The miracle he wants to perform today through us is the miracle of a people who supplicate, rather than retaliate. He wants us to be people who pray instead of fight. If we dare to fight our battles on our knees, we are going to find that we can win those battles.

NOTES:

*Jimmy Stewart, Shenandoah, Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, 1965. For the script of the movie, see:

https://transcripts.thedealr.net/script.php/shenandoah-1965-FX5

Fair, Ian A, Stephen Leston, and Mark L. Strauss. Matthew & Mark: Good News for Everyone. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Pub, 2008.

The next short section has raised several problems for interpretation. The parable in itself is not difficult. One should not give to the unclean (dogs and swine) that which is clean or holy” (Page 40)
“However, does the unclean refer to Gentiles, or simply to the undeserving? Does it perhaps refer to the hypocrite of 7:5? It is difficult to determine what holy thing Jesus is referring to at this point as it relates to the previous admonition against judging” … The next pitfall disciples face is the loss of faith (7:7-12). Jesus encourages His disciples to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking, for true faith never loses heart and quits. Again, Matthew follows this encouragement of Jesus with a saying that seems to be detached, the Golden Rule, but it does have some connection to the previous admonitions of Jesus. Disciples are to be like their heavenly Father. They are to love one another and be constant in their faith” (Page 41).

France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids (MI: Eerdmans, 2007.

“The imagery of sacred things given to dogs and precious pearls to pigs is clearly about mismatch, about the inappropriate use of what is special. But what are the holy things and pearls, and from whom are they to be withheld?” (Page 276).
“Perhaps we can be no more definite than to say that disciples are to be discriminating in sharing the “sacred things” of the gospel and the treasures of their Father in heaven, so as not to lay them open to abuse, but to avoid offering a more specific identification of who are to be regarded as unsuitable or incapable of receiving them (cf. Paul’s insistence in 1 Cor 2:13-16 that only the “spiritual” can receive spiritual teaching)” (Page 277).

McCarren, Paul J. A Simple Guide to Matthew. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012

“Matthew then says Jesus pointed out that we wouldn’t thrust something valuable at a pig or a dog lest they react to such strange behavior with startled aggression. Shouldn’t we show the same deference to one another [v.6]? That question might provoke in us a burst of quibbles that come down to one question: “How can I respect those who are annoy¬ ing?” Matthew says Jesus spoke here of seeking help in prayer. Have a question? Ask. Something missing? Search. Door locked? Knock [vv.7-8]. So, if you need the gifts of patience and respect, ask for them— and remember you’re asking your heavenly Father. Matthew says Jesus pointed out how attentive we are to the appeals of our children, and then suggested we imagine God to be at least as attentive as we are [vv.9-11]. Matthew tells us Jesus summed up his explanation of how our relationship with God should shape our relationship with each other by reminding the crowd of the basic message repeated throughout each part of scripture: you’ll treat others well if you believe God loves them as he does you [v.12]. (Page 32).

Platt, David. Exalting Jesus in Matthew. , 2013.

“When you read the Sermon on the Mount, you should not walk away thinking, “I must turn the other cheek in order to be accepted by God. I must love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me in order to be accepted by God. I must follow the Golden Rule perfectly in order to be accepted by God.” We are not accepted by God because of anything that we do. We are accepted by God completely and totally because of a perfect Savior who has died a bloody death in our place and who has risen again in victory. Yes, we pray for our enemies, we love those who persecute us, and we follow the Golden Rule. But we do these things not in order to earn acceptance before our God, but because we have acceptance by God and we want to glorify Him in everything that we do” (Page 92).

Reid, Barbara E. The Gospel According to Matthew. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2005.

“The saying in 7:6 is unique to Matthew and somewhat enigmatic. What is holy (“hallowed”) in 6:9 is God’s name. A pearl can signify the realm of God (see 13:45-46). “Dogs” is likely a reference to outsiders (see also 15:26), since Jews did not keep dogs indoors as house pets. Swine were unclean animals for Jews. So the saying is best understood as an admonition not to preach about the reign of God to Gentiles or pagans, but to concentrate the mission within Israel (similarly 10:5-6). If persecution can be expected in the mission to Israel (5:10; 10:16-36), all the more would such be anticipated with outsiders” (Page 47).

Wright, N T. Matthew for Everyone: Chapters 1-15. London: SPCK, 2004

“What then about the dogs, the pigs, and the pearls? Doesn’t this imply that Jesus’ followers are to make quite a serious judgment — namely that some people come into these categories, so should not be given holy or precious things? Yes. It seems as though Jesus is here assuming a distinction between one’s own community — in his case that of village and town life in Galilee, within the Jewish world of his day — and people from outside. ‘Dogs’ was after all a regular abusive term for Gentiles; pigs were kept only by Gentiles since Jews didn’t eat pork. He seems to be warning his followers not to try to explain the meaning and life of the kingdom to people who won’t even understand the Jewish world within which it makes sense” (Page 70).

BE MERCIFUL

BE MERCIFUL

Luke 6:36-42 NET

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive.” 39 He also told them a parable: “Someone who is blind cannot lead another who is blind, can he? Won’t they both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while you yourself don’t see the beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

When the LORD tells me to do something, I don’t normally stop and ask him why. I figure he has his reasons. But since we have been studying the commands of Christ for several months now, I think it might be appropriate for us to stop before we go any further and try to figure out why he wants us to do these things. Why should Christians obey the commands of Christ?

We could probably find several correct answers to that question this morning. But the reason that seems to be totally obvious to me after we have gone through all these commands so far is that we lead other people to God by imitating his character. We see that in the first verse of today’s text: Jesus commands his apostles to be merciful, even as God their Father is merciful. Jesus said a similar thing in one of his beatitudes. He said “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Matthew used a different word for merciful in Greek, but it looks like he was talking about the same thing.

We need to learn to be consistent in our obedience to Christ’s commands. We don’t do this to get saved. Obedience cannot save you, even obedience to Christ’s commands. We are saved by faith in God’s grace, through the obedience and righteousness of Christ demonstrated by his death on the cross. That is the only means of our salvation. But once we come to Christ in faith, declaring him to be our king, and committing ourselves to become active in his coming kingdom, we have a choice. We can choose to act consistently with that faith and obey our new king, or we can choose to shipwreck our faith by disobeying him.

I believe anyone with true faith in Christ is going to want to live out that faith by obeying his commands. I also believe that this is God’s plan for saving others. Jesus told his apostles that they were the light of the world. He implied that if they obeyed his commands, it would light the way for others to come to him and be saved. You and I are recipients of the same promise, and that is why we also must consistently obey his commands.

I chose the Luke passage for today’s study because it goes into more detail about what it means to be merciful. That is the primary command that Jesus is drawing our attention to. A merciful person is someone who does not retaliate when he is wronged. A merciful person is someone who chooses to overlook an insult and chooses to not get even when he is injured.

Note the context of today’s passage: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people” (Luke 6:32-35).

God is kind to ungrateful and evil people. If we want to imitate him, we are going to have to be kind to ungrateful and evil people too. We have to learn to act mercifully. In fact, Jesus makes it clear in verse 36 that this is not something that we will be able to do automatically because we are Christians. The word for “be” in verse 36 is γίνομαι — a word that actually means “become.” If you and I want to imitate God and lead other people to Christ, we are going to have to work at becoming merciful. Today’s text can show us how.

A merciful person sees beyond another person’s failures (37).

Jesus says “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” These are three examples of the choice to be merciful when you are confronted by evil.

First, we have to choose not to judge. Now, again it is important to understand this statement in its context. Jesus is not telling us to withhold our value assessment of another person’s theology or lifestyle. He actually criticized the hypocrites because they failed to judge for themselves what is right (Luke 12:57). The apostle Paul told the Corinthian believers that they were wrong to go to court with one another before unbelieving judges. He argued that the church itself should be able to settle its own disputes. In fact, he said that in the future we will judge angels. His point is that the church is exactly the place for finding out what is right and wrong.

So, if Jesus is not talking about that kind of judgment — the settling of disputes within the congregation — what is he talking about? I say again, God is kind to ungrateful and evil people. If we want to imitate him, we are going to have to be kind to ungrateful and evil people too. We have to learn to act mercifully. Mercy is a means of evangelism. Mercy is a way of turning an enemy into a friend — more than a friend — a brother or sister.

The first step is to see that unbeliever not as an enemy, but as a potential fellow believer. It is what you choose to see. If you look only in the flesh, you will only see a sinner. But if you choose to look beyond that person’s failures, you can see a sinner saved by grace.

Jesus says, do not judge. To judge means to criticize. The problem with light is that it exposes the ugly things that you could not see when you were in darkness. But once the light shines in the living room you see the dust, the dirty carpet, the stain on the sofa, the crack in the window, the ants crawling on the floor, etc.

Our tendency — even as believers — is going to be that we will see the bad things that people do, and the evil motives behind those actions. If we are not careful, we will become the wrong kind of a perfectionist. The right kind of perfectionist is the kind who carefully removes the logs from his eyes before he ever mentions the sawdust speck in the eye of his neighbor. But the wrong kind of perfectionist is the kind who is always criticizing, always finding fault. That kind of person will not win others to Christ. Every wrong thing he experiences will be another obstacle keeping him from making friends and influencing people with the gospel.

After criticizing, the next step is condemning. This is a step further because criticism may be just a private value judgment. But condemnation is a public sentence. Jesus commands us not to condemn. By condemning someone — even if what they do is evil — we separate ourselves from that person. We isolate them from ourselves, which means that they no longer have access to the light of the gospel. We effectively say that since they did X and it resulted in Y then they no longer deserve the grace of God or the mercy of God.

After criticizing and condemning, the third step in the wrong direction is failing to forgive. Jesus tells us to forgive. He does not say that we should forgive only if a person asks for forgiveness. He does not say forgive only once, but seventy times seven. Try to obey Jesus at this point and you will lose count. That’s the point. If we are really interested in leading someone to Christ, we are going to be merciful toward them. We are not merciful because they deserve it. We are merciful because they need it.

Failing to forgive means holding a grudge. Grudges keep us from the very people God wants us to bring to Christ. It is very easy to effectively isolate yourself from all the people God wants you to evangelize. Criticism, condemnation, and failure to forgive are all human nature revealing itself. You have that human nature, and your first inclination when someone does or says something wrong is for you to act according to it. But you also have God’s nature since you are a born-again child of your heavenly Father. He is merciful, so you should also be merciful. Instead of criticizing, overlook the offense. Instead of condemning, love the offender. Instead of isolating yourself from him, forgive him and get closer.

A merciful person invests himself in the needy (38).

Jesus says “Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive.” He has not changed the subject. He is still talking about how we can become merciful like our heavenly Father is merciful. Have you ever noticed that he gives to all kinds of people? He does not seem to be too choosy about who he gives his rain. It falls on the just and the unjust.

When Jesus talks about giving here, he means all the ways you can enrich another person’s life. It is not just about money. But money is a good illustration. We all have certain things we like to give to, and we have a list of other things we choose not to invest in. If you are not sure what I’m talking about, I invite you to take a look at your monthly bank statements. They reveal just where your money went. You can also find out the things that are really important to you. Dr. J. Ronald Schoolcraft preached a sermon about this entitled “The Gospel According to Stubs.” He implied that if you really want to know what is important in your life, check your check stubs.

Now, there are all kinds of needy people in the world. Some people don’t get enough food. Some need more adequate health care. Others are victims of drugs and other addictive substances. Jesus’ encouragement is for believers to reach out to people with these needs and help them, and we will find that when we have a need, there will be someone doing the same for us.

But we have to keep in mind the context of this statement. There is a category of needy people that you probably did not think of when I made the above statement. These may have enough food. They may have a good health insurance policy. They may even not suffer from drug or alcohol addiction. But they need something even more basic. They need a relationship with Jesus Christ. They need to get their names on the roll of God’s coming kingdom. They need faith in God. They need to be born again.

These — more than anyone else — need God’s mercy. Jesus tells us to invest in these people. Some of them do need more food. Thank God for ministries like the food bank and the world hunger fund. They are simple investments that show others we care about them. They just might make the difference between someone listening to the gospel or rejecting it. Any way that we can invest in the needs of others might just be a way to link them with someone who can share the gospel with them.

A merciful person learns to rescue others by first repenting of his own sins (39-42).

Jesus said “Someone who is blind cannot lead another who is blind, can he? Won’t they both fall into a pit? A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while you yourself don’t see the beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”

The first thing we need to do is learn how to live mercifully toward others. If we insist on being the wrong kind of a perfectionist, we are going to be useless in bringing other people to Christ. We will criticize and condemn and fail to forgive every time we are wronged. We will turn against all our neighbors. Even if we see them ambushed and beaten on Jericho road we will not stop to help them. We will criticize them because of the color of their skin. We will condemn them for their lack of common sense. We will let all their old failures keep us from being merciful toward them.

God has a means of rescuing our enemies from their sins. He offers them forgiveness through Christ, and eternal life on the last day by means of the resurrection unto eternal life. But Jesus has chosen you and me to be his representatives. We are the ones he has chosen as his witnesses, declaring his good news of deliverance and freedom from the bondage of sin and warning about the sure destiny of destruction in hell for those who reject the good news.

But what if we choose not to be merciful? What if we are perfectionists toward others and not ourselves. What if we get so fixated on those specks of sawdust that we spend all our time criticizing them, condemning them, and holding grudges against them? I’ll tell you what will happen. They will turn their backs on us and our message. They will say “if this is what it means to be a Christian, I don’t want anything to do with it.”

But what if we take Jesus seriously on this issue of being merciful? What if we take special care to remove all those logs that are keeping us from looking and acting like our heavenly Father? What if we get our act together so that when someone does do something bad to us, they are ashamed of their actions. What if we give to people just because we want them to be blessed. God is not going to forget that kind of investment.

Something else is going to happen too. If we who claim to be disciples of Christ start living like him — being merciful like him — loving those who mistreat us like he did… The world around us is going to notice. Some of those same people we count as our enemies today are going to be drawn to Jesus by our acts of mercy. They will want to be our disciples because they see something in us they want to see in themselves.

NOTES:

merciful: “being concerned about another’s unfortunate state or misery, merciful, compassionate” (Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, ed. Frederick W. Danker, 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. [BDAG]).

“Merciful action requires human initiative without any reservations; it realizes the demand for unlimited love” (Strecker, Georg. The Sermon on the Mount. T. & T. Clark 1988. p. 39).

“Out of the beatitudes for the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the persecuted, and out of the cries of woe against the wealthy, the satisfied, the happy, and those who seek the praise of people, arises the appeal to be guided by God’s mercy. It is striking that the command to love one’s enemies is placed at the very beginning, in a lengthy statement that also calls for renunciation of resistance and retaliation, and for giving and lending without requiring repayment, and climaxes with the admonition, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). The sayings regarding not judging, forgiveness, and ready generosity follow immediately” (Schnackenburg, Rudolf. All Things Are Possible to Believers: Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount. 1st ed. Westminster John Knox Press 1995. p. 27).

“Do not judge and your house will not be destroyed when the judgment turns on you. Do not condemn so that the final storm of condemnation will not sweep your house away. Forgive and the waves will be forgiving. Give and you will receive back a good measure, shaken together and poured into your lap. You cannot possibly measure and saw and hammer your house when there is a log in your eye. So does it make sense to be distracted by the sawdust in your brother’s or sister’s eye? Before you can get on with your work—much less help your brother or sister with his or her speck—take the log out of your own eye” (Card, Michael. Luke: The Gospel of Amazement. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2011. p. 93-94).

“For this reason the Golden Rule is “golden” only when interpreted in the light of its Christian context, not in a secularized abstraction. In Luke it occurs as a kind of summary in the middle of the section on loving enemies and forgoing retaliation (Luke 6:3). This context gives the rule a loftiness it cannot have in isolation. Doing as you would be done by now means far more than calculating one’s self-interest, because its meaning is illustrated by love of enemies and non-retaliation. The rule is then immediately contrasted with reactive reciprocity in the follow- ing verses, for example, Luke 6:34: “If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.” The ultimate clue for interpreting and applying the Golden Rule is provided by the section’s concluding verse: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). (Hare Douglas R. A. Matthew. John Knox Press 1993. p 80).

Romans 2:1, 19

Romans 14:3, 10

James 4:11

1 Corinthians 4:3-5

1 Corinthians 11:1

1 Corinthians 13

James 2:13

James 3:1

Matthew 5:19

Matthew 15:14

John 7:24

Proverbs 19:27

20221030 BE MERCIFUL.mp3

DON’T WORRY

Photo by Jahoo Clouseau on Pexels.com

DON’T WORRY

Matthew 6:25-34 NET

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? 27 And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? 28 Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! 30 And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? 31 So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.

Our English word “sidetrack” comes from the railroad industry in the 19th century. To move a rail car onto a sidetrack was to divert it from its connection with the other cars. It didn’t take long for that term to be used for anything that distracts a person from what he really should be doing.

The Pharisees were sidetracked. Even though they did all the things that Jesus commanded his disciples to do — give, pray, fast — they did it for human praise. God’s kingdom was not their purpose. They were too busy accumulating treasure on the present earth to invest in a future in God’s coming new earth.

In today’s text, Jesus reveals another thing that can sidetrack a person: worry.

We shouldn’t worry, because we are more important than what we worry about (25-27).

Jesus says we should not worry about our life, what we will eat or drink, or about our body, what we will wear. We know that bodies wear clothing, but we don’t usually say that our “life” is eating or drinking something. It’s a bad translation. The Greek word translated as “life” there is the word ψυχή. In the Bible, the word often means “neck” or “throat.” That is the more appropriate word to use here. We use our throats in the process of eating and drinking.

Incidentally, I think the reason the translators didn’t do this is that the Greek word ψυχή is often translated as “soul.” Lots of people think of a soul as an immaterial part of a human being — like a ghost inside the body. They can’t imagine an immaterial soul eating and drinking. So, the translators avoid the problem by substituting the generic word “life” instead.

Jesus used the word ψυχή because the throat is a good metaphor for the appetite. Hunger is a serious problem that we have to attend to regularly, several times a day. Jesus had talked about fasting in this same sermon. Voluntary fasting was a way to set aside time to focus on God. But what Jesus is talking about here is involuntary fasting: not eating because there is nothing to eat. Jesus instructs his apostles not to worry about where their next meal is coming from.

Everybody has to provide for themselves, and that includes planning regular meals for themselves and their families. Jesus is not telling us that we should just ignore this need. He is telling us that we should not spend all our time worrying about it. Worry sidetracks us from doing the things that our king has commanded us to do.

But Jesus goes on to tell his apostles why they don’t have to be sidetracked by worry. He tells them that their throats are more important than the food and drink they put down their throats. Their bodies are more important than the clothes they wear on their bodies. In other words, God loves them for who they are themselves — not for what they have.

To illustrate this, Jesus directs them to look up into the sky. Remember the last time you looked into the sky and saw a flock of birds flying in formation? What an awesome thing that is! It makes you wonder who programmed those things. Jesus told his apostles that those birds don’t plant berry bushes or build worm farms. But they are fed. Who feeds them? Note these words: “your heavenly Father.”

We shouldn’t worry, because we are more important than what we worry about. We shouldn’t worry because we have a Father in heaven who is watching over us, making sure that our regular needs are met. We pray to him for daily bread, so we don’t have to worry about where the next loaf is going to come from.

The next thing Jesus says is that worrying does not accomplish anything positive. He asks his apostles if any of them can add any time to their life span by worrying. He didn’t need to look around to see if either of them raised their hand. It’s a rhetorical question. They all know that worrying may take hours off their lives, but it never adds an hour to them.

We shouldn’t worry, because our heavenly Father knows what we need (28-32)

To illustrate what Jesus said about clothing, he directs their attention to the flowers of the field. They don’t plant cotton fields and build factories either. But even Solomon in his best royal robe couldn’t be decked out any better than the flowers. His point was the same: you are more important than the clothes you wear. You have a heavenly Father who will clothe you.

We have a Father who is looking out for us. That does not mean we have a Santa Claus in heaven and we can send our Christmas list to him. We don’t need a lot of toys. But there are some things that we do need. God has already demonstrated that he can be trusted to provide the bare necessities of life.

Look at that wild grass! Acres and acres of nothing but green. That shows you what God can do with only one crayon from the box. But Grass is temporary. It is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven. But if our heavenly Father goes to all the trouble to provide for that temporary grass, imagine what he will do to take care of your needs. You have the potential to live eternally.

Jesus says that “this is the will of my Father — for everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40). That means that if you are a believer, eternal life is your destiny. You are more than the grass which is clothed in green today and burns up tomorrow. You are destined to be clothed with immortality.

In light of that fact, it doesn’t make sense to worry about what we are wearing. If you have clothes, that should be enough. You shouldn’t waste time worrying about whether your clothes are new enough or fashionable enough. Jesus said that the “unconverted” pursue these things.

We shouldn’t worry, because we have a kingdom to pursue (33-34)

We, believers, have better things to do than focus on the externals. We have a kingdom to proclaim, a righteous life to live and a just society to build. Let the unbelievers worry themselves into an early grave. We have the gospel to preach.

After warning us not to get distracted by worry, Jesus redirects us to the right track. He says that we should pursue God’s kingdom and righteousness.” We pursue the kingdom by learning and obeying the commands of the king. Note that Jesus did not say that we are to simply wait for the kingdom. He says that we should pursue it. You have to chase something if you haven’t caught it yet. There is a sense in which we are already citizens of the coming kingdom. Our names are on the list. We have a permanent inheritance.

But if we want to secure our permanent inheritance, we need to live like sons of the Father from whom we will inherit. We are currently living in one of the kingdoms of this earth. The kingdom that is coming down from the sky is not here yet. We pursue that kingdom by living according to its rules. That is what the sermon on the mount is all about. If you want to live by someone else’s rules, it disqualifies you from the coming kingdom. That is why Jesus told his apostles to not follow the hypocrites. He said unless their righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, they will never enter the kingdom.

To make it clear that Jesus was talking about how we live our lives today, Jesus’ command here is that we should pursue God’s kingdom and righteousness. Now, there are two aspects to the meaning of the Greek word for righteousness that Jesus used here. The word δικαιοσύνη means the righteousness of justification internally, and justice externally. We are justified by faith in Jesus Christ and the results of that justification are the forgiveness of sins and positional sanctification. We are then called to represent God’s kingdom on earth today by seeking justice and fairness for others. Pursuing God’s righteousness means chasing both these things.

Worry becomes a problem when our worries keep us from seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness. But the solution to the problem of worry is not going to come by focusing on what we are worrying about. Jesus didn’t tell his apostles to get together in small groups and go through therapy sessions about their anxieties over eating, drinking, and their wardrobes. No, he told them that their worries were sidetracking them from their purpose. Their purpose was to pursue the coming kingdom, in their personal lives, and in society. He told them that if they would keep on track and not get distracted, then God would provide for their needs.

His final instruction on this subject was to remind them that they would face problems every day. But the solution to these dilemmas is simple. They should take life one day at a time, and not worry about tomorrow. If we focus on seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness today, we can avoid getting sidetracked by worrying about what might happen tomorrow.

_______

NOTES:

“If we trust God rather than Mammon, we won’t worry about the necessities of this life. Worry about such things is sin, for it is an expression of doubt that God will do what he has clearly promised to do. Yet we frequently worry because of the weakness of our flesh. Here Jesus tells us how to deal with our worries. First he tells us not to worry about life, food, drink, or clothing, and then he tells us why we need not worry.

His first argument compares the greater to the lesser. If God has given you life, which is far greater than any material possessions, will he not provide you with the lesser gifts of food, drink, clothing, and shelter? Would it make any sense at all for God to give us life and then be unconcerned about sustaining that life? The obvious answer is No.

Then he compares the lesser to the greater. If God provides for the needs of the birds of the air, who don’t even sow or reap or store up food in barns, will he not provide for your needs? You have the advantage over the birds of being able to sow and reap and store up the fruits of the field in barns. You also have the advantage of being far more valuable in God’s sight. … Can you imagine that he will be less concerned about you than about the birds? Or look at the wildflowers. The lilies of the field do not labor or spin; yet God dresses them in finery that even Solomon in all his splendor could not rival. We can “labor and spin.” We have that advantage over the lilies. So why should we worry about having the necessary clothing? The grass of the field was used as fuel for cooking in areas where firewood was scarce. It was here today and gone tomorrow, and yet God also made the grassy fields a thing of beauty. Can we imagine that God has less concern for us? Impossible!

With these observations and reassurances in mind, Jesus gives us a word of advice that might well serve as our motto for Christian living day after day: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (verse 33). He is telling us to make his kingdom and his righteousness the number one priority in our lives.”

Albrecht, G J, and Michael J. Albrecht. Matthew. Milwaukee, Wis: Northwestern Pub. House, 1996. pp. 99-100.

“The delightful irony about slavery to God is that the master entrusts to his slaves the very wealth from whose bondage he delivered them (6:24, 33b; cf. 25:14-30); that persons preoccupied with God are able to enjoy earthly wealth; that those who ‘store up treasures in heaven’ can find pleasure in things others are hoarding on earth. God’s slaves — the Father’s children — now perceive wealth for what it really is, the handiwork and gift of God. They view life’s necessities with new eyes (6:22): besides being nourishing, meals are found to be tasty, one reason being food’s exquisite colors; a woolen coat is appreciated for both its warmth and its beauty; which helps to explain believers’ contentment with food and clothing (1 Tim. 6:8). Now, perhaps for the first time since childhood, they ‘behold the birds’ and ‘consider the flowers,’ and stand in wonder before the Creator’s endless wisdom and artistry.”

Chamblin, J K. Matthew: A Mentor Commentary. Fearn, Tain: Christian Focus Pub, 2010. p. 450.

“When Jesus says, ‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear, he is not referring to people who are destitute but rather to people who are relatively well-off. People should not make food and drink, one’s body or one’s clothes into idols or fetishes. Rather, Jesus says, ‘Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you.’ In Matthew’s gospel, seeking God’s kingdom and seeking justice (righteousness) are not two distinct quests. There is no authentic search for the kingdom except in a quest whose immediate goal is God’s justice: justice here on earth that makes a real difference in people’s lives, especially those who are poor.”

Fogarty, Philip. Matthew. Dublin: Columba Press, 2010. p. 38.

“In normal circumstances, our cushioned Western lifestyle leaves little scope for the sort of “worry” about basic provisions which this passage envisages. It is perhaps at times of economic catastrophe or of drastically changed personal circumstances that its message applies most directly, and that it becomes clear how far our essential priorities enable us to trust rather than to worry.”

France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids (MI: Eerdmans, 2007. p. 267.

“We hear Jesus say the only thing that casts out anxiety is trust. Like nonbelievers, we’ll find ourselves agonizing about our circumstances. But when that happens, we should review the choice that belief first presented to us: do you want God’s kingdom, or do you want to build one for yourself? We should then renew our decision to accept God’s kingdom [vv.31-33]. This spells out in detail the advice with which Matthew tells us both John the Baptist and Jesus began their ministries: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (see 3:2; 4:17). Turning away from self-absorbed anxiety, and turning to the kingdom, is what we must do day after day after day [v.34]. All we need will be put in our laps along with the kingdom [v.33b]. Good News!”

McCarren, Paul J. A Simple Guide to Matthew. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012. p. 30.

“There is a subtle transition from greed in 6:19-24 to anxiety in 6:25-34 (Gundry 1994: 115). These verses begin with a general prohibition against worrying about life. Two (or perhaps three; see the additional note on 6:25) staples of everyday life are singled out to explain what is meant by “life’—-what one eats and what one wears (6:25). God’s provision of food is then stressed in 6:26-27, and of clothing in 6:28-30, before the general prohibition against worry is restated in 6:31 and again in 6:34 (cf. Luke 12:22-31). Rhetorical questions underline the incompatibility of anxiety with faith (Matt. 6:25, 26, 30) and stress its impotence (6:27).”

Turner, David L. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008. p. 198.

“Living totally without worry sounds, to many people, as impossible as living totally without breathing. Some people are so hooked on worry that if they haven’t got anything to worry about they worry that they’ve forgotten something. Here, at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount, is an invitation that surprisingly few people even try to take up. Why not learn how to share the happiness of Jesus himself?”

Wright, N T. Matthew for Everyone: Chapters 1-15. London: SPCK, 2004. p. 67.

“Some worries we bring on ourselves directly. According to one estimate, the average American family has $8,000 in credit card debt, and almost half of all families spend more than they make in a year.’ We have more things to spend money on and more ways to spend it than ever before. Our greed traps us in a cycle of worry and fear.

This is not what God wants for his children! God does not want us to be slaves to worry or to be trapped by our selfish desires. The life Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount is a life characterized by trust and dependence rather than anxiety and greed. To live lives free from anxiety and greed, we must discover what is truly important. We must focus our lives on God’s way, rather than on gaining material things. As we trust God and focus on God’s way, God calls us to change our treasure, our outlook on life, and the kingdom we seek.”

Younger, Carol D. The Gospel of Matthew: Hope in the Resurrected Christ: Adult Bible Study Guide. Dallas, Tex: BaptistWay Press, 2008. p. 84.

20221023 DON’T WORRY.mp3