The Sermon on the Mount (4)
our last lessons about the “Sermon on the Mount,” we saw that the
broad context is that this sermon is one of several others in Matthew's
Gospel. Then we saw how
Jesus’ audience had a very different concept of kingdom than what
Jesus had; they were thinking military and physical strength, but Jesus
was thinking spiritual and moral strength.
So Jesus introduces His sermon by talking about His disciples’
character (what we often call the Beatitudes), then the disciples’
persecution, and then the disciples’ influence—they must not let the
world set the pace for them, but they must set the pace for the world.
Then we examined the transition from the introduction to the body
of sermon where Jesus gives a clarification, an explanation, and an
clarification: His message is not designed to put down the Old
Testament. The explanation:
His disciples must continue to have such a great respect for the Old
Testament that they both obey and teach it.
The exhortation: His disciples’ righteousness must surpass that
of the present Jewish religious leaders!
This statement would have had the audience wondering, “Well,
Jesus, what kind of righteousness are your you talking about?
How can our righteousness exceed theirs?”
So the rest of the sermon strives to explain the kind of
righteousness that Jesus wants His disciples to manifest.
we saw how Jesus first explains that His righteousness properly
interprets the Law. In six
examples in chapter 5, He contrasts the religious leaders'
misinterpretations with His correct interpretation.
These contrasts all showed four principles to keep in mind.
“First, the spirit of the law, the intent, is more important
than the letter of the law. Secondly,
obedience to the law is more than just proper actions since it also
includes our thoughts, motives, and desires.
Thirdly, the law was not given to hinder us but to help us; the
law was not meant to be oppressive; rather, it was meant to promote our
freedom! Lastly, the
ultimate purpose of the law is so that you and I can come to know, to
serve, and to love God” (Dieleman).
letter approach turns devotion into a system, obedience into a
checklist, and relationships into regulations.
So, Jesus first point in explaining how His disciples'
righteousness differs from that of the religious leaders is that His
righteousness properly interprets the Law.
second point, which we discussed in our last sermon, is that His
righteousness puts God in the number one position!
The disciple's aim is pleasing God, so the disciple often gives,
prays, and fasts in secret. He
does this to have God's approval, and not men's applause.
The disciple's treasure is serving God, and Jesus gives us some
strong warnings against materialism: earthly treasures are transitory,
earthly treasures can obscure reality, earthly treasures can stop our
service to God. Then, Jesus
presented a third way we are put God in the number one position: the
disciple’s priority is promoting God.
He commanded us not be overly concerned about the necessities of
this life. He commanded us
to seek first God's kingdom and His righteousness.
And He commanded us not to be worried about tomorrow for our
Heavenly Father is in control. The
disciple's aim is pleasing God, his treasure is serving God, and his
priority is promoting God because Jesus' righteousness puts God in the
number one position.
now brings to the next major section in the sermon and to Jesus' third
point: My righteousness gives relationships the number two position.
My interpretation of this next section is somewhat different than
what you'll find in most commentaries or what you've heard in most
preaching. I'll do my best
to explain why I take this position.
If you think that my interpretation is weak or in error, then you
can disagree and point out with kindness why you think another
interpretation is better. We
can still be brethren even we disagree on our interpretations of this
passage! By the way, thanks
for at least hearing me out!
me give one other observation before getting into the text.
Someone has observed that because we study the Bible so often in
our Bible classes verse by verse, that we fail at times to see the
overall context of a passage and easily switch from one topic to another
topic based on the verses. We
need to be careful not to jump tracks and switch topics too quickly.
We need to try to keep passages in their contextual framework.
In our passage today, too often we have lost sight of the
here’s what I mean. The
usual approach to Matthew 7:1-12 is this one: Don’t’ judge anybody.
Look at your own faults. Don’t
evangelize those who are really sinful.
Pray a lot. And live
by the Golden Rule. You see,
we switch from tolerance, to self-examination, to evangelism, to prayer,
to lifestyle. This approach
does give us some disjointed ideas, but things don’t really seem to
follow one train of thought. So
I want to propose that before we look at the parts, let’s try to
establish a contextual framework. For
example, verse one of chapter 7 starts off by talking about something
that has to do with relationships. And
then if we drop down to verse 12, something else is said about
relationships as well. So if
we begin with relationships and end with relationships, I want to
propose that all the other passages in between verses 1-12 will also be
trying to teach us something about relationships.
My righteousness gives relationships the number two position.
disciples should not have a condemnatory spirit.
Verse 1 says: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
One preacher has observed: “This verse is parroted by people
who have no idea what Jesus means. .
. . the people who refer to this verse most are [often] the most
immature and understand it the least.
It just happens to fall into line with the spirit of this age,
[which is a spirit of unlimited tolerance that says nothing is ever
wrong.]” (Cope) We know what he means don’t we?
Have you ever seen these scenarios?
There’s the teenager whose parents told that she can’t date a
certain boy because they think he would not be good for her spiritual
development. So she storms
toward her room saying, “Judge not, that you be not judged” and
slams the door and feels she done her duty by telling off her parents!
Or what about the boy who gets caught drinking on a Christian
college campus. His
“friends” will immediately rally with what cry to put down those who
must enforce the rules? “Judge
not, that you be not judged!” Or
there was the church in Collinsville, OK that disfellowshipped a woman
for immorality, and the woman filed a lawsuit against the church.
Someone probably reacted angrily towards this church and said
rather snidely and wrongly, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
So is Jesus saying that we can never pass judgment on anyone?
If He is, then we have a real problem with John 7:24 where He
states: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with
righteous judgment.” Now,
which is it? Never judge or
judge with righteous judgment? Let
me propose another idea. When
we look at the parable that Jesus told about the Pharisee and publican
who went to pray in Luke 18:9, we read that Jesus told this parable to
those who were self-righteous and despised others.
And we see the Pharisee patting himself on the back and
condemning the tax collector. There’s
what Jesus is talking about! “Don’t
have a condemnatory spirit.” One
commentator stated it this way: “Our Lord's injunction to 'judge not'
cannot be understood as a command to suspend our critical facilities in
relationship to other people, to turn a blind eye to their faults, or to
refuse to discern between good and evil. . . . It is a plea to be
generous . . . to renounce the presumptuous ambition to be God”
(Stott). “A young man was
once biking across the country and was making his way through the
aftermath of a blizzard in Gillette, WY.
He saw a man walking toward him with filthy coveralls and
carrying a black lunchbox. He
thought he was a bum and had his hand on his pepper spray in his pocket.
‘Where you headed?’ he asked.
got enough food?’ Before
he replied, the biker thought, ‘If I say, “Yes,” then he’ll ask
me to share some’, and this would mean opening his backpack and
revealing his expensive camping gear.
‘I got some cheese,’ he answered.
‘You won’t make it to California on just cheese.
You’ll starve.’ The
biker kept his hand on the pepper spray.
‘Believe me, I know,’ the man continued. ‘Listen, I’m
living in a car back in town, and everyday I walk out to the mine to see
if they need me. Today, they
don’t, so I won’t be needing this lunch of mine.’
‘I’m really fine,’ said the biker, ‘I don’t need your
lunch.’ The man shook his
head and opened his box, a typical church meal—bologna sandwich, an
apple, and a bag of chips. The
biker protested again, but the man wouldn’t be persuaded.
So the biker took the lunch, and the man started walking back
towards town. The biker
later wrote: ‘I learned a lot of things in college.
I learned much on my trips to Europe and Mexico.
But I had to stand out there on that frozen piece of interstate
to learn generosity from a homeless man’” (Larson-Elhof).
Jesus’ disciples should not have a condemnatory spirit.
how can we overcome this condemnatory spirit?
Well, that’s what the verses which follow try to tell us.
The disciple can overcome this negative spirit which just
“writes off” other people through four realizations.
The first realization is found in verse 2: “For with what
judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it
will be measured back to you.”
The disciple should realize that God will treat him or her in the
same way that he or she treats other people.
Now that’s a very weighty teaching!
You’ve probably heard the expression: “Well, you get what you
give” and that could be what Jesus is saying, but it seems to go
beyond that. Another
commentator has noted: “But the passive [form of the verb], as often
in Matthew, probably conceals God Himself as the agent.
Just as He will forgive those who forgive, He will [treat with
disdain] those who [disdain others].”
“You mean, the way I treat other people will have an impact on
the way that God will deal with me?”
Yes, the measure that you use will be the exact same measure that
you can expect God to give you back to you.
Now do you see why I said this is such a profound teaching?
Let’s treat others as we would want God to treat us—that will
help to curb our condemnatory spirit.
Maybe we should carry around a small tape measure in our pocket
or purse to remind us of this measurement principle that Jesus taught.
the second realization to help us to overcome a condemnatory spirit is
found in verse 3-5: “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?
remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to
remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
The disciple should realize that he or she has faults too, so he
or she should examine their own lives before being critical of others.
One commentator puts it this way:
“Jesus is not condemning criticism as such, but rather the
criticism of others when we exercise no comparable self-criticism,
trying to correct others when we have not first corrected ourselves”
(Stott). It’s kind of like
that saying: “When you point your finger at another person, just
remember that three fingers are pointing back at you.”
“We have a fatal tendency to exaggerate the faults of others
and minimize the gravity of our own” (Stott).
“I’m firm, but he’s pig-headed.
I’m flexible, but she’s gone back on her word.
I’m reconsidering, but he or she has changed their mind”
(Cope). We have our faults
too, so let’s examine ourselves before we begin to criticize others.
Realizing our own shortcomings will help us to be less
third realization is found in verse 6: “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.”
Now if we tie this passage in with relationships, what is Jesus
teaching us? If I took a
$100 bill and threw it into the monkey cage at the zoo, what would you
think of me? “Bro. Paul
has lost it! He’s gone
crazy. Didn’t he
understand the value of that bill, and didn’t he know that the monkey
would probably just rip it into little pieces?”
So what’s the point? The
disciple should realize that relationships are valuable, and they should
not be treated in a frivolous way. Do
we view our relationships as valuable, or sometimes do we just think so
little of them that it would be like our casting pearls before pigs?
A man who was suffering with Alzheimer’s disease wrote this to
his wife after a troubling bout of forgetfulness: Today fear is taking
over. The day is coming when
all my memories of this life we share will be gone.
You and the boys will be gone from me.
I will lose you even as I am surrounded by you and your love.
I don’t want to leave you.
I want to grow old in the warmth of memories.
Forgive me for leaving so slowly and painfully.”
His wife, blinking back her tears, wrote to him: “I will
continue to go on loving and caring for you—not because you know me or
remember our life, but because I remember you.
I will remember the man who proposed to me and told me he loved
me, the look on his face when his children were born, the father he was,
the way he loved our extended family.
I’ll recall his love for riding, hiking, and reading; his tears
at sentimental movies; the unexpected witty remarks; and how he held my
hand while he prayed. I
cherish the pleasure, obligation, commitment, and opportunity to care
for you because I remember you.” Now
there’s a couple who saw their relationship as valuable!
Maybe valuing our relationships would help us to extinguish our
the fourth realization starts in verse 7: “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. 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 you Father who is in heaven give good
things to those who ask Him!”
Certainly, this is talking about prayer, but could it be a prayer
about our relationships? The
disciple should realize that prayer, done persistently and specifically,
can help to build relationships. You
know, when you don’t understand someone else, wouldn’t prayer be a
good place to begin? One
commentator noted: “The three balancing clauses—asking, seeking,
knocking— in each of these verses adds up to a strong exhortation to
persist in prayer. The
present tense indicates continuous prayers” (France).
So we’re continually asking God to help us to understand our
brother or sister. We see
too here that our prayers need to be specific.
We do not pray: “God bless George,” but we pray: “Lord,
George and I are in conflict. Please,
Lord, help me to understand better where he’s coming from.
I don’t see why he believes the way he does, so please help me
to discover his perspective so that I can respect him more.”
It is amazing sometimes how God will answer such a prayer; you
can be put into some mighty strange situations.
Yet those different situations will help you to understand your
brother or sister better. Could
insights and new perspectives be some of those “good things” that
God wants to give to His children who ask Him?
And then Jesus’ closes this section and the main body of this
sermon with these words in verse 12: “Therefore whatever you want
men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the
should practice a benevolent spirit, for this is what the Old Testament
was driving at. Often to
close out the body of speech in Jesus’ day, a rabbi would refer back
to something that he began the speech with.
Remember, that Jesus began the body of His sermon by saying that
His righteousness properly interprets the Law.
Now he closes by giving us what has become called the Golden
Rule—treating others as you would have them treat you.
One commentator noted: “We should positively seek another
person's good by using our imagination: putting ourselves in the other
person's shoes and asking, 'How would I like to be treated in that
situation?'” (Stott). A
business man wrote this in 1999: “I’ve led from a place of servant leadership, and
I’ve led from a place of top-down leadership — and there’s no
question which kind of leadership is more effective.
My classmates at Harvard Business School used to call me ‘the
Prussian general’ because for many years that was my approach to
leadership. Then I was hit by a series of personal and professional
setbacks. My wife died. A
mail-order venture that I had started went bankrupt.
Rather than launch another business, I accepted a friend’s
offer to head an aquarium project in Tampa.
I spent the next six years in a job that gave me no power, no
money, and no knowledge. That
situation forced me to draw on a deeper part of myself.
We ended up with a team of people who were so high-performing
that they could almost walk through walls.
Why, I wondered, was I suddenly able to lead a team that was so
much more resilient and creative than any team that I had run before?
The answer: somewhere, amid all of my trials, I had begun to
trust my colleagues as much as I trusted myself.
And that is the essence of servant leadership” (Stuart quoted
in Larson-Elshof). He began
living by the Golden Rule. “In
1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed the 29,035-foot peak
of Mount Everest. Thousands followed, thanks to Nepal’s lifting its
tight restrictions on climbing the legendary mountain.
By 2006, more than 2,700 people had reached the summit of the
world’s tallest mountain, many paying more than $60,000 for the
experience. One result of
this commercial influx has been the erosion of the traditional moral
code of mountaineering. In
the rush to the top, amateurs who have paid a fortune will do anything
it takes to get to the summit, including abandoning other climbers.
David Sharp became a casualty in March of 2006.
The thirty-four-year-old engineer from Cleveland managed to reach
the summit on his own. However, he ran out of oxygen on the way back
down. As he lay dying, forty climbers passed him by, too eager to
achieve their own goals to take a chance on offering their oxygen to
someone else. David Sharp
froze to death” (The Week in Larson-Elshof).
Forty climbers who had forgotten the Golden Rule. Another
commentator rightly observed: “As
a general principle to guide us in specific ethical decisions, the
Golden Rule has not been bettered” (France).
should show a benevolent spirit; for that’s what the Old Testament was
So now we see how Jesus’ righteousness has gone beyond that of the religious leaders of his day. His righteousness properly interprets the Law. His righteousness puts God in the number one position. His righteousness gives relationships the number two position. These are the main points that Jesus wanted His audience to grasp. In the conclusion of His sermon, Jesus will give three warning and an admonition. That will be the subject of our next lesson. You’ve been so kind to hear me out. A condemnatory spirit or a benevolent spirit? Jesus wants us to practice the Golden Rule. How have you been treating others? Have you made other things take priority over relationships? Do you want follow that righteousness which Jesus offers, beyond that of ritualistic piety?