Sermon on the Mount — 5

Monday, July 2

Read: Matthew 7:1-2

Consider: Some statements in the Bible bring us peace and some cause us consternation. And often, one passage will do both. Take, for example, Paul’s statement, “A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7). That’s good news if you’re planting good things. But if you’re sowing chaos in the lives of people around you, that may sound more like a threat than a promise. As Paul went on to say, “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (6:8).

Jesus’ words that we read today are much like Paul’s with one exception. While Paul spoke about reaping “eternal life,” Jesus was speaking about what we reap right now. In our dealings with others, Jesus said…

“…with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2)

I don’t think that is a threat. I don’t think it’s even a promise. I think it’s a fact.

Several years ago, I had the privilege of ministering to a woman in the latter months of her life. On one occasion while I was visiting Teresa in the hospital, she expressed how overwhelmed she was with the love and support she was receiving. Friends from church, and people from church that she did not even know, were standing by her with visits, prayers, cards, letters and lots of love. As she expressed her amazement, I laughed. She was surprised, but I certainly was not. You see, Teresa had spent her life loving people, writing them cards of encouragement, expressing her appreciation for them, being the face of Christ in so many ways. What resulted was perfectly predictable—the “measure” she used to give to others was being used by them to give to her.

We get to choose today the measure we will use. We can plant encouragement or criticism. We can deal patiently with others or we can treat them as irritants in our lives. We can be tolerant of their shortcomings or we can be judgmental. We can be aware of their pain or we can be preoccupied with our own. We can build them up or cut them down. We get to choose.

Pray: Thank the Lord that today you get to choose the measure you will use. Praise him for the measure he used when giving to you. Ask him to help you be the face of Christ today.

 

Tuesday, July 3

Read: Matthew 7:1-5

Consider: Christians often get uneasy with Jesus’ command, “Do not judge” (7:1). They fear the wrong kind of tolerance. They’re afraid that we will abandon the call to live lives of integrity if we don’t clearly label some acts as sinful. After all, how can we live, raise Christian children and grow in grace if we don’t judge what is right and what is wrong? So, we must understand what Jesus meant by the word, “judge.”

In the original language of the New Testament, the word for “judge” in this instance is the same one Jesus used in John 3:17, which is usually translated “condemn” — “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” That gives us some insight into what Jesus meant when he commanded, “Do not judge.” Of course, we will evaluate which actions are right and which are wrong. But Jesus was clearly stating that we are not to stand as condemners of any person.

Now, at this point, many Christians fall back on the old aphorism, “We hate the sin, but love the sinner.” I think we need to be careful with that one. In fact, I think it’s time to put that one to rest. While you may think it is truth, to most people that does not feel like a loving embrace. It still feels judgmental. It still feels like condemnation.

So, how are we to approach this whole issue of discerning and judging what is right and what is wrong? Jesus made it very clear. We spend more time on our own sins than on the sins of others. As Christians, we should be more concerned with how we can be more loving than how we can straighten out some other person.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (7:3-4)

When I am painfully aware of my need for grace, I am empowered to give grace to others. When I realize my lack of love, I can focus on growing and learning to love more, rather than looking for the shortcomings of another person. This humility empowers us to love like Jesus, who did not come “into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world” (John 3:17).

Pray: Ask the Lord to help you with any planks that may be blocking your vision and your love. Praise him that he lovingly purifies us if we humbly come to him. Then ask him to help you use the grace he’s given you in the lives of others.

 

Wednesday, July 4

Read: 1 Corinthians 5:1-7

Consider: As you can see from even a quick reading of 1 Corinthians 5, the Corinthian church had some major problems. The situation outlined here is mind-boggling. People in the church (perhaps even some of their leaders) who claimed piety, were engaging in gross immorality. There was no repentance there. Paul was shocked — “A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud!” (5:1-2). And so, says Paul, “I have already passed judgment on the one who did this” (5:3).

This may feel at odds with Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount when he told us not to judge. But it really is in harmony with Jesus’ approach to sin and to sinners.

You’ll notice that throughout Jesus’ ministry he showed great patience with sinners, but great anger toward hypocrisy. He was tender and forgiving toward tax collectors and prostitutes (two groups who certainly carried the “sinner” label). But some fiery rhetoric came from his lips directed at the religious, judgmental Pharisees. Why would he say to religious people, “prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31)? It all had to do with authenticity.

When we come to Jesus acknowledging our sinfulness and our incredible need for grace, he accepts us without condemnation. This is the nature of God.

“A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

“This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit…” (Isaiah 66:2)

This is what Jesus meant when he began the Sermon on the Mount with these words…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

We should never fear the wrath of God when we humbly seek his forgiveness and his grace. We should never fear condemnation when we live in relationship with him, knowing that we will always depend on his grace and never on our own righteousness. But we should fear for our souls when we flout his grace with arrogance and hypocrisy.

Remember the plank in your eye and your need of grace, and you’ll be okay.

Pray: 

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 
your kingdom come, your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

(Matthew 6:9-13)

 

Thursday, July 5

Read: Matthew 7:1 and 1 Corinthians 5:9-13

Consider: We need to take another look at 1 Corinthians 5 to address our relationships with those who do not claim Jesus Christ as their Lord. I am grieved when I hear Christians slandering those they consider to be outside of the faith. I often hear hateful language from self-professing Christians toward those they seem to despise. They divide the world into “us” and “them.”

But Paul could not be clearer…

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” (1 Corinthians 5:12)

In other words, if you don’t think they’re Christians, you have no right whatsoever to judge them. He goes on to say…

“Are you not to judge those inside?” (1 Corinthians 5:12)

We should not be angry with those we think are non-believers. We should be angry with believers who show contempt for them. When I’m judging sinners, I’m out of step with the Sermon on the Mount and 1 Corinthians 5. When I’m condemning hate speech from believers, I’m in harmony with the words of Jesus and Paul. (Paul particularly singles out the believer who is “a slanderer”—5:11).

Now, let’s keep perspective. When Paul encourages us to judge those on the inside, he’s not talking about brothers and sisters who are struggling in their walk with Christ. Throughout his letters he’s very clear that we are to be patient with and watch out for those brothers and sisters who are weak in their faith. We are constantly encouraged to forgive one another and to be tolerant of each other’s failures. It is obvious from the context of 1 Corinthians 5:12 (see the entire chapter and yesterday’s devotional), that Paul is talking about blatant, arrogant hypocrisy—the kind of “yeast” that can work through the church and destroy weak believers.

It comes back to the beginning point. I must start with me. I should have no patience with slander, hate or a judgmental spirit emanating from my life. If I hold myself accountable to the command to love, and if I’m humbly asking God to help me with my planks, then I will have the vision necessary to love those outside the faith and be helpful with the specks of sawdust inside the body of Christ.

Pray: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

 

Friday, July 6

Read: Matthew 7:7-12

Consider: As we’ve seen throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is positioning us to see the big picture. There is a new kingdom and a new way that God interacts with humankind. He wants us to see what is happening, and to receive new hearts and new minds that empower us to live by the values of that new kingdom. And now he gives us an outrageous, too-good-to-be-true statement…

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (7:7-8)

This statement has often been misconstrued. For some it means that we now get to dictate to God what it is that we should have. We get to pursue what we want. But why would Jesus come down to the end of his sermon and reverse everything he has already said? He’s been talking about a humble walk in which God teaches us to love our enemies and lay down our lives, rather then put ourselves first. He’s been teaching us that the old, tired, self-centered way is not the way of this new kingdom. No, he’s not directing us back toward self. There is something else going on here.

He’s been showing us the big picture and now he’s inviting us into this new kingdom. Is it possible for me to live in that new kingdom today? Is it possible for the values of that kingdom to be alive in me and through me? Yes! Ask! Seek! Knock on the door! This new kingdom is yours.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (5:3)

Pray: “Thank you, Lord, that you don’t give stones for bread or snakes for fish. Thank you for the good gifts you give, even when I don’t know what is good for me. Thank you for inviting me to seek this new kingdom.”

 

Saturday, July 7

Read: Matthew 7:24-29

Consider: I can never read this passage without remembering the song I sang as a child in Sunday School — “The wise man built his house upon the rock and the rains came a tumbling down…” This became a tenant of our faith. To build our lives on Jesus is to build on a foundation of rock that lasts for eternity. To live without Jesus is like building on sand that will be washed out from underneath us.

I think that’s true. I’ve tried to live my life in that manner. But that is not exactly what Jesus is saying in this passage. He’s not talking generically about building on Jesus. He’s talking about the sermon he just preached — “these words of mine” (7:24).

He said a lot of things in the Sermon on the Mount. He talked about giving dignity to every man, woman and child. If you don’t build your home on dignity, it will fall apart. He talked about humility. Your life will crumble around you if you build on the sands of arrogance and self-righteousness. He talked about loving your enemies—and made it definitive of what the new kingdom is all about. Hate for anyone will destroy your life, your influence and your home. He said we get to choose our foundation and its level of security — “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2). He told us that a judgmental spirit will turn around and bite us. And he said much more.

This closing illustration about the foundation of our lives shows us why the Sermon on the Mount is so important. It is vital for Christians to read it often. It is vital that we understand this calling on our lives. Jesus said it is the difference between stability and destruction.

The rains will come, the streams will rise, and the wind will blow and beat against you. That is not the question. The question is, will you be the one “who hears these words… and puts them into practice” (7:24)?

Pray: Thank the Lord for teaching you and showing you how to live. Confess to him that it is only by the power of his Spirit dwelling in you that you can live in the manner that he has called you to live. Submit yourself to him and ask him to live the values of the kingdom through you.