20/20 VISION

 

Week of November 18, 2007

 

Bible Verses:  Matthew 7:1-12.

 

Biblical Truth: For followers of Jesus, knowing God as Father helps them develop properly focused attitudes toward themselves, God, and others.

 

See Yourself More Clearly:  Matthew 7:1-6.

 

[1]  Judge not, that you be not judged. [2]  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. [3]  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? [4]  Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? [5]  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. [6]  Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.   [NASU]

 

[1-2]  The Christian is not to be a Judge. If, then, Jesus was neither abolishing law courts nor forbidding criticism, what did he mean by judge not? He was warning against having a judgmental attitude. The follower of Jesus is still a critic in the sense of using their powers of discernment, but not a judge in the sense of being judgmental which is a compound sin consisting of several unpleasant ingredients. It does not mean to assess people critically, but to judge them harshly. The judgmental critic is a fault-finder who is negative and destructive towards other people and enjoys actively seeking out their failings. He puts the worst possible construction on their motives, pours cold water on their schemes and is ungenerous towards their mistakes. Worse than that, to be judgmental is to set oneself up as a censor, and so to claim the competence and authority to sit in judgment upon one’s fellow men. No human being is qualified to be the judge of his fellow humans, for we cannot read each other’s hearts or assess each other’s motives. To be judgmental is to presume arrogantly to anticipate the day of judgment, to usurp the prerogative of the divine Judge, in fact to try to play God. Not only are we not the judge, but we are among the judged, and shall be judged with the greater strictness ourselves if we dare to judge others. To sum up, the command to judge not is not a requirement to be blind, but rather a plea to be generous.

 

[3-4]  The Christian is not to be a Hypocrite.  We have a fatal tendency to exaggerate the faults of others and minimize the gravity of our own. We seem to find it impossible, when comparing ourselves with others, to be strictly objective and impartial. On the contrary, we have a rosy view of ourselves and a jaundiced view of others. What we should do is to apply to ourselves at least as strict and critical a standard as we apply to others.

 

[5]  The Christian is rather to be a Brother. The fact that being judgmental and a hypocrit are forbidden us does not relieve us of brotherly responsibility towards one another. Our Christian duty is first to take the log out of our own eye, so that then with the resulting clarity of vision we shall be able to take the speck out of our brother’s eye. Again, it is evident that Jesus is not condemning criticism as such, but rather the criticism of others when we exercise no comparable self-criticism; nor correction as such, but rather the correction of others when we have not first corrected ourselves. The standard of Jesus for relationships in the Christian life is high and healthy. In all our attitudes and behavior towards others we are to play neither the judge (becoming harsh, censorious and condemning), nor the hypocrite (blaming others while excusing ourselves), but the brother, caring for others so much that we first blame and correct ourselves and then seek to be constructive in the help we give them. We need to be as critical of ourselves as we often are of others, and as generous to others as we always are to ourselves.

 

[6]  Our Attitude to Dogs and Pigs. This verse provides balance to the previous verses. If we are not to judge others, finding fault with them in a censorious, condemning or hypocritical way, we are not to ignore their faults either and pretend that everybody is the same. Both extremes are to be avoided. The dogs and pigs are those who have had ample opportunity to hear and receive the good news, but have decisively, even defiantly, rejected it. The fact is that to persist beyond a certain point in offering the gospel to such people is to invite its rejection with contempt and even blasphemy. Our Christian witness and evangelistic preaching are not to be entirely indiscriminate. If people have had plenty of opportunity to hear the truth but do not respond to it, if they stubbornly turn their backs on Christ, we are not to go on and on with them, for then we cheapen God’s gospel by letting them trample it under foot [see Titus 3:9-11]. At the same time to give people up is a very serious step to take. This teaching of Jesus is for exceptional situations only; our normal Christian duty is to be patient and persevere with others, as God has patiently persevered with us.

 

See God More Clearly:  Matthew 7:7-11.

 

[7]  Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

[8]  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. [9]  Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? [10]  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? [11]  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!    [NASU]

 

[7-11]  Our Attitude to our Heavenly Father. Jesus actively encourages us to pray by giving us some very gracious promises. Ask, Seek, Knock: all three verbs are present imperatives and indicate the persistence with which we should make our requests known to God. If we belong to Christ, God is our Father, we are His children, and prayer is coming to Him with our requests. The reason why God’s giving depends on our asking is neither because He is ignorant until we inform Him nor because He is reluctant until we persuade Him. The reason has to do with us, not with Him; the question is not whether He is ready to give, but whether we are ready to receive. So in prayer we do not prevail on God, but rather prevail on ourselves to submit to God. The truth is that the heavenly Father never spoils His children. He does not shower us with gifts whether we want them or not, whether we are ready for them or not. Instead He waits until we recognize our need and turn to Him in humility.

 

In thinking about prayer we need to distinguish between the gifts of God as Creator and His gifts as Father, or between His creation-gifts and His redemption-gifts. It is perfectly true that He gives certain gifts (harvest, babies, food, life) whether people pray or not, whether they believe or not. None of these creation gifts are dependent on whether people acknowledge their Creator or pray to Him. But God’s redemption-gifts are different. God does not bestow salvation on all alike, but bestows His riches upon all who call on Him. The same applies to post-salvation blessings, the good things which Jesus says the Father gives His children. It is not material blessings that He is referring to here, but spiritual blessings – daily forgiveness, deliverance from evil, peace, the increase of faith, hope and love. For these gifts we must certainly pray. Being good, our heavenly Father gives only good gifts to His children; being wise as well, He knows which gifts are good and which are not. We can thank God that the granting of our needs is conditional, not only on our asking, seeking and knocking, but also on whether what we desire by asking, seeking and knocking is good according to God’s standards.

 

How then shall we approach God? Jesus gives a brief but telling illustration to reinforce the main point: as sons of the kingdom we are to approach God with trust in His goodness, and persistence as we ask for the day’s supply. Jesus’ argument is a fortiori: If human fathers, who by God’s standards of perfect righteousness can only be described as evil, know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will God give good gifts to them who ask Him? The Christian is to remind himself often of the sheer goodness of God, and therefore of the resources available to him from His heavenly Father. We frame our requests in accordance with what we know of the character of the One whom we are addressing.

 

See Others More Clearly:  Matthew 7:12.

 

[12]  So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.    [NASU]

 

[12]  Balance and Perfection. At the beginning of chapter 7, Jesus deals with final possible misconceptions. Precisely because He is given to preaching in absolute categories, He takes special pains to bring the parts together in balance and proportion. The first danger Jesus deals with is the danger of being judgmental [1-5]; but He balances that against the danger of being undiscriminating [6]. And the whole discourse is tempered by His warning against lacking a trusting persistence [7-11]. Jesus is insisting that both entrance into the kingdom and progress in the kingdom require God’s saving hand.

 

It is important to notice that Jesus closes with the positive expression of the so-called Golden Rule instead of the negative expression known to many religions. Negatively, it says, “Do not do anything to anyone that you would not want him to do to you.” Thus, if you do not want to be robbed, cursed, hit, hated, etc. then don’t do that to others. But positively it becomes “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” Thus if we want to be loved, appreciated, etc. then we should do those things to others. The positive form is thus far more searching than its negative counterpart. Here there is no permission to withdraw into a world where I offend no one, but accomplish no positive good, either. What would you like done to you? What would you really like? Then, do that to others.

 

The reason we are to do to others what we would like others to do to us is that such behavior sums up the Law and the Prophets. In other words, such behavior conforms to the requirements of the kingdom of God, the kingdom which is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. It constitutes a quick test of the perfection demanded in 5:48; of the love described in 5:43ff.; of the truth portrayed in 5:33ff.; and so forth. Here Jesus focuses on the second part of the law because it is axiomatic that the second will never be obeyed without the first. We will never love our neighbors in the way we would like to be loved until we love God with heart and soul and mind. As the overwhelming distance between these demands and our own conduct drives home our spiritual bankruptcy, may God give us a burning desire to turn to Him with humble, persistent asking, seeking, knocking. Then out of this we shall become “doers” of the Word, and not just “hearers.”

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.      How do we keep in balance Jesus’ call for discernment and His command not to be judgmental in our dealings with others [1-6]? What does Jesus say must take place first before we are able to help our brother with the “speck” that is in his eye?

 

2.      How does our asking, seeking and knocking depend upon our understanding of God’s character? Why does God expect us to be persistent in our prayers?

 

3.      Why does Jesus express the Golden Rule in positive terms instead of negative terms?

 

References:

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount , D.A. Carson, Global Christian Publishers.

The Sermon on the Mount, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.

Christian Counter-Culture, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.