Law + Prophets = Jesus – Sermon on the Mount – Part VI

Matthew 7:1-12 will bring us to the end of the teaching section of the Sermon on the Mount, which began in Matthew 5:21 right after Jesus’ thesis in Matthew 5:20; a need for surpassing righteousness.  After the close of the teaching section of the Sermon, Jesus will give several punchy calls for a decision to be a part of the kingdom of God in Matthew 7:13-27.  Matthew 7:1-12 can be broken into three smaller sections that will be brought together in Matthew 7:12.  The three sections are as follows: Matthew 7:1-5 teaches on judging others, Matthew 7:6 teaches us to be discerning with the Holy things of God, and Matthew 7:7-11 will teach us to approach God as a benevolent Father.  Finally, Matthew 7:12 will bring together these three sections and form and inclusio with Matthew 5:20 (the referent to Law and Prophets in Matthew 5:17) to end the teaching section of the Sermon on the Mount.

As we begin by looking at what Jesus has to say concerning the judgment of others it is fun to note that Matthew 7:1 may have surpassed John 3:16 as the most popularly quoted Bible verse in our culture today, although without the numerical reference.  It has become all to common to hear this verse used in the course of a disagreement between people in our culture.  Popular exegesis understands this verse to be a condemnation by Jesus on anyone that would attempt to make any sort of judgment about how another person lives his or her life.  In fact, this verse is often used to say that no one should judge another person ever.  If we think carefully about the popular use of this verse it should open our minds to the way we have become more self-absorbed and even more entrenched in our rebellion against God, seeking to justify our lives however we want to live them apart from any Law or rule.  In fact, we begin to sound like the nations in Psalm 2:1-4 who want to throw off the Law of God and live however they please, but God sits laughing at their efforts; He is still in control. 

So is this really what this verse is saying, that we should not ever make a judgment on anyone?  We can find many places in the Bible where we are called to make judgments.  Take for example Paul’s qualifications for elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3:1-13. For a church to appoint elders and deacons a judgment must be made on a candidate’s life.  The church is asked to see how the candidate matches up to the qualifications Paul has set out.  We can find another example of judgment in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13.  Here Paul reminds the Corinthians not to associate with (believing) immoral people, but to make that distinction, a judgment needs to made by believers on the morality of other believer’s lives.  1 Corinthians 5:12 becomes a good guide in our judgment of others, we are not to judge others outside of the church for that is God’s business, but we are called to make judgments about our fellow believers.  In fact, previously in 1 Corinthians 5:15-16, Paul has argued that believers have the beginning of true wisdom in Gospel of Christ and therefore are able to judge everything rightly, though they themselves are truly judged by no one but God.  Finally, even Jesus in John 9:39 says He has come into this world for judgment.  Those that believe in Him will be saved, but the rest will be judged (John 3:17-18).  We must understand that it is right to make judgments, but as we will see those judgments need to be in line with God’s law and our own lives.

Matthew 7:2 begins to develop further Jesus’ intention concerning judgment and becomes very important as we begin to understand His message.  Jesus has now turned up the heat.  He is telling us that by the standard we hold other people to, we will be judged ourselves.  Matthew 7:3-5 will then provide us with an illustration of what Jesus is talking about.  Here one man with a log in his eye is comically judging another man that has a spec in his eye.  Jesus then gives the man the imperative to get the log out of his own eye before he deals with the spec in his brother’s eye.  To do anything less would make the man making the judgment a hypocrite.  The application here is not what we commonly hear, that all judging is bad, but rather that the we should hold people to the same gracious and Godly standard that we ourselves are already following as believers.  God condemns our actions that are against Him, but he also holds out His grace through confession and repentance.  We should do the same.

In Matthew 7:6 Jesus instructs believers to be discerning with the holy things of God.  He calls us not to give what is holy to dogs and not to throw our pearls before swine.  The reason being that the hogs and dogs will trample the holy things of God under foot, and tear us to pieces.  This is a powerful and interesting verse and the meaning can easily be lost.  A good starting place for this verse is to think about the different ways the Bible thinks about dogs and hogs.  In II Peter 2:22 dogs are referenced as returning to their own vomit, and hogs returning to wallow in the mire.  In both cases this is a picture of those that have received the Gospel and then have abandoned it for defilements of this world.  Matthew 7:6 then seems to urge us not to give the doctrines of Grace to those who only want to tear you down.  In addition, playing off the judgment theme, we should not place Biblical rules on those that are not part of God’s people. They in turn will rebel against God’s Law and that is for God to take up with them.  Finally, we could also see in this verse that we should not give ourselves, being holy believers, to unbelievers.  Interestingly enough, in contrast to Matthew 7:1-5, this verse calls us to make a judgment on what is holy and who the dogs and hogs are!

Matthew 7:7-11 then deals with the principal of ask, seek, knock; approaching God as a benevolent Father.  Hendriksen in his commentary on Matthew sees this section having continuity with the preceding verses by showing how we can accomplish what has been stated.[1]  In other words, you want to know how to judge wisely, ask the Father.  If you want to know how to keep the holy things from the dogs and hogs, ask the Father.  I think there may also be a nuance to this section that shows how we should not look to others to fulfill us but to God.  Meaning, don’t look for fulfillment in passing judgment on someone, but in submitting to God.  Don’t look for fulfillment in others opinions, by giving everything you have to the dogs and hogs, but carefully submit your life to the Father.  Above all, this section calls us to ask the Father for surpassing righteousness.  If you want surpassing righteousness and want to understand the things of God then Jesus message is to ask Father, seek the Father, and knock on the Father’s door!  Matthew 7:9-10 then gives us two examples of the way even men do not turn away their children, showing the goodness of God to those that believe in Him.  Matthew 7:11 then gives us an explanation telling us if men, being evil, do this for their children how much more will God answer our prayers.  God here is personified as a benevolent caring Father and we would do well to engage Him as such.

Finally Matthew 7:12, also known as the Golden Rule, draws to a close the teaching section of the Sermon on the Mount by forming an inclusio with Matthew 5:20 (the referent to Law and Prophets in Matthew 5:17).  Turning again to Hendriksen and his comments on this verse, he gives three popular misunderstandings on this verse: first, the un-Christian thinks he can have the surpassing righteousness to enter the kingdom of God apart from God, second, the Christian liberal takes this verse to be the sum of Christian ethics and forgets or minimizes the love of God that gives us the example and the ability to actually love others through Christ’s work on the cross, and third, some see this verse as saying whatever we do to others it will be paid back to us in a karma sort of way.[2]  This verse however, when linked with Matthew 5:17, points us back to Christ.  Therefore to treat people in the same way you want them to treat you means that we would continue the trend of unmerited love toward other people that we have received from God.[3]  This then helps us to understand how we should judge people, how we should protect the Gospel that has been entrusted to us, and how we should boldly approach our Father who has bestowed grace on us.  Our surpassing righteousness comes through the Gospel, is kept by the Gospel, and urges us to spread the message of the Gospel to all men.  This requires keen judgment, precise discernment, and perpetual communication with our benevolent Father.

[1] William Hendriksen, Matthew: Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1982), 361.
[2] Ibid., 365.
[3] Ibid., 366.

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