MAKE UP YOUR MINDS

 

Week of November 25, 2007

 

Bible Verses:Matthew 7:13-29.

 

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

 

About Lifeís Directions:Matthew 7:13-14.

 

[13]Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. [14]For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.†† [NASU]

 

Nothing could be more calamitous than to meditate long and hard on Matthew 5:1-7:12 and then to resolve to improve a little. The discipleship which Jesus requires is absolute, radical in the sense that it gets to the root of human conduct and to the root of relationships between God and men. A person either enters the kingdom or he does not. He walks the road that leads to life, or he walks the road that leads to destruction. There is no third alternative. Nothing, nothing at all, could have more crucial significance than following Jesus. Jesus therefore concludes the Sermon with a number of paired alternatives. He speaks of two paths [13-14], two trees [15-20], two claims [21-23] and two houses [24-27]. By these pairs he insists that there are two ways, and only two.

 

These final verses of the Sermon demand decision and commitment of the type that beseeches God for mercy and pardon. Such discipleship is characterized by that deep repentance which hungers for nothing more than conformity to Godís will. But because there are only two ways, simple failure to make such deep commitment is already a commitment not to do so. Jesusí way demands repentance, trust, and obedience. Therefore refusal, stemming as it must from an unrepentant arrogance, unbelief, and/or disobedience Ė in short, self-centeredness instead of God-centeredness Ė can only be construed as rebellion. The Sermon offers two ways and only two. The one ends in life [14], good fruit [17], entrance into the kingdom of heaven [21], stability [25]; the other ends in destruction [13], bad fruit and fire [19], exclusion from the kingdom along with other evildoers [23], ruination [27].

 

[13-14]. The metaphor is straightforward. We are to picture two paths, two roadways. The first is broad and its gate is wide. It accommodates many people, all enjoying its spacious contours. But although it is so well-traveled, it ends in destruction. The other path is narrow, and the way into it is small. It is confined, and relatively few travelers are to be found on it. But it leads to life, a synonym for the kingdom. Five legitimate deductions can be drawn from these two verses.

(1) Godís way is not spacious, but confining. Poverty of spirit is not easy; prayer is not easy; righteousness is not easy; transformed God-centered attitudes are not easily achieved. In fact, these things are impossible for us, apart from Godís grace. But within the confinement there is a whole spectrum of joys and freedoms for the Christian. The deepest joy is joy in personally knowing God through Christ. As the Godhead becomes the center of the Christian's thinking, all of life takes on a new and fascinating attraction as he glimpses the wholeness of things under God. Yet the way is confining nevertheless. Indeed, the more hesitation there is about going Christís way wholeheartedly, without reserve, the more confining His way seems. However, the more enthusiasm there is for following Him regardless of personal opinion or peer pressure, regardless of cost, the more liberating His way appears.

(2) We may deduce that Godís way cannot be discovered by appeal to majority opinion, for the majority is on the road that leads to destruction.Christians will apply Paulís words to many perspectives: ďLet God be true, and every man a liarĒ [Rom. 3:4].

(3) It follows that the narrow way to life cannot be pursued as long as we are motivated by a desire to please the mass of men. True disciples of Jesus will not play to the galleries, nor form their values according to the passing approval of faddish whim. The beatitudes tell us that it is Godís approval alone which is of ultimate importance.

(4) The two paths are not ends in themselves, but have eternal significance beyond themselves. The one ends in destruction, the other in life. Not the path, but the pathís destination is of ultimate significance.

(5) Let it be noted once more that there are only two ways.

 

About Lifeís Influences:Matthew 7:15-23.

 

[15] Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. [16]You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? [17]So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.

[18]A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. [19]Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [20]So then, you will know them by their fruits. [21]Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. [22]Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your Name perform many miracles?' [23]And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.†† [NASU]

 

[15-20].The history of the Christian church has been a long and dreary story of controversy with false teachers. Their value, in the overruling providence of God, is that they have presented the church with a challenge to think out and define the truth, but they have caused much damage. In telling us to beware of false prophets Jesus made another assumption, namely that there is such a thing as an objective standard of truth from which the falsehood of the false prophets is to be distinguished. It is clear that Jesus held that truth and falsehood excluded one another, and that those who propagate lies in Godís name are false prophets, of whom His followers must beware.

 

We learn from the metaphor that false prophets are both dangerous and deceptive. Their danger is that in reality they are wolves. The good pastor feeds the flock with truth, the false teacher like a wolf divides it by error, while the time-serving professional does nothing to protect it but abandons it to false teachers. One of the major characteristics of false prophets in the Old Testament was their amoral optimism, their denial that God was the God of judgment as well as of steadfast love and mercy. False prophets are adept at blurring the issue of salvation. They are also deceptive. They are wolves but come dressed as sheep. In other words, a false teacher does not announce and advertise himself as a purveyor of lies; on the contrary he claims to be a teacher of truth. We must be on our guard, pray for discernment, use our critical faculties and never relax our vigilance.

 

Jesus changed the metaphor from sheep and wolves to trees and their fruit, from the sheepís clothing which a wolf may wear to the fruit which a tree must bear. A wolf may disguise itself; a tree cannot. Sooner or later the tree betrays itself by its fruit. The first kind of fruit by which false prophets reveal their true identity is in the realm of character and conduct. Whenever we see in a teacher the meekness and gentleness of Christ, His love, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control, we have reason to believe him to be true, not false. A second fruit is the manís actual teaching. If a personís heart is revealed in his words, as a tree is known by its fruit, we have a responsibility to test a teacher by his teaching. In examining a teacherís credentials, then, we have to examine both his character and his message. Sound doctrine and holy living are the marks of true prophets. Then there is a third test which we must apply to teachers, and this concerns their influence. We have to ask ourselves what effect their teaching has on their followers. False teachers upset peopleís faith, promotes ungodliness and causes bitter divisions. Sound teaching produces faith, love and godliness.

 

Of course, the application of the fruit test is not altogether simple or straightforward. For fruit takes time to grow and ripen. We have to wait for it patiently. We also need an opportunity to examine it closely, for it is not always possible to recognize a tree and its fruit from a distance. To apply this to a teacher, what is needed is not a superficial estimate of his standing in the church, but a close and critical scrutiny of his character, conduct, message, motives and influence.

 

[21-23]The Danger of a Merely Verbal Profession. The people Jesus is describing here are relying for salvation on a creedal affirmation, on what they say to or about Christ. But our final destiny will be settled, Jesus insists, neither by what we are saying to Him today, nor by what we shall say to Him on the last day, but by whether we do what we say, whether our verbal profession is accompanied by moral obedience. What better Christian profession could be given? Here are people who call Jesus ĎLordí with courtesy, orthodoxy and enthusiasm, in private devotion and in public ministry. What can be wrong with this? In itself nothing. And yet everything is wrong because it is talk without truth, profession without reality. The reason for their rejection by Him is that their profession was verbal, not moral. It concerned their lips only, and not their life. The vital difference is between saying and doing. The reason Christ the Judge will banish them from Him is that they are evildoers. They may claim to do mighty works in their ministry; but in their everyday behavior the works they do are not good, but evil. We who claim to be Christians in our day have made a profession of faith in Jesus privately in conversion and publicly in baptism. We appear to honor Jesus by referring to Him as Ďthe Lordí or Ďour Lord.í We recite the creed in church, and sing hymns expressive of devotion to Christ. We even exercise a variety of ministries in His name. But He is not impressed by our pious and orthodox words. He still asks for evidence of our sincerity in good works of obedience. What a man believes must sooner or later manifest itself in what he does. Jesus affirms an indissoluble link between belief and conduct. The fruit the Lord Jesus looks for is a life in growing conformity to the norms of the kingdom: righteousness, transparent humility, purity, trusting and persistent prayerfulness, obedience to Jesusí words, truthfulness, love, generosity, rejection of all that is hypocritical.

 

About Lifeís Foundations:Matthew 7:24-29.

 

[24]Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. [25]And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. [26]Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. [27]The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house, and it fell, and great was its fall. [28]When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; [29]for He was teaching them as one who having authority, and not as their scribes. †††[NASU]

 

[24-27].Now Jesus draws the Sermon to a close with a paragraph introduced by a telling ďtherefore.Ē Picture these two houses. There may not be much in their external appearance to enable the casual observer to distinguish between them. One, however, has its foundation resting securely on bedrock; the other has as its foundation nothing more substantial than sand. The image of the foundation is variously used in Scripture. For example, Godís personal knowledge of His own people is said to be a divine foundation, providing His people with confidence [2 Tim. 2:19]. Good works are a foundation for the coming age, not so much in the sense that they earn life as in the sense that without them there is no life [1 Tim. 6:17-19]. But most commonly, Jesus Himself is the foundation, a sure foundation.

 

Nevertheless, Jesus is not the foundation referred to in Mt. 7:24-27. In fact, the focus is not quite centered on the foundations adopted, rock and sand, but upon the two builders and their entire projects. The man who builds his house upon a shifting foundation is likened to the person who hears Jesusí words but who does not put them into practice. The man who builds his house upon a rock is likened to the person who not only hears Jesusí words but also puts them into practice. The difference between the two houses is therefore to be likened to the difference between obedience and disobedience. The rock in this extended metaphor may well represent Jesusí words. Putting those words into practice, then, is like building a house on a sure foundation. The violent storm differentiates between the two buildings.

 

In the Old Testament the storm sometimes serves as a symbol for Godís judgment [see Ezek. 13:8-16], especially Godís eschatological judgment, His final judgment. The four sections that make up the conclusion of the Sermon concur in the theme of the threat of judgment. Each stresses two unyielding themes. The first is that there are only two ways, one which ends in the kingdom of God and the other in destruction. The second theme is that the former way is characterized by obedience to Jesus and practical conformity to all His teaching. These pronouncements ought to instill in us a holy fear. Which one of us stands unashamed beside the precepts of the Sermon? Do not these threats of judgment prompt poverty of spirit, which is the first of the kingdomís norms? Our spiritual inability to fully obey the commands of Jesusí Sermon drives us back to the Cross in repentance seeking His mercy and forgiveness, while simultaneously seeking fresh grace that enables us to become obedient followers of our Lord.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.††††† Compare 7:13 with John 14:6. What kind of commitment does this gate or way demand? Why? What is left behind when a person chooses to enter at the narrow gate?

 

2.††††† Why are false prophets so dangerous? How are we to recognize false prophets? Why must fruit be the test? What keeps us on the narrow way and enables us to discern false teaching?

 

3.††††† Where does the greatest discredit to the Christian message come from: unbelief or false belief? Why?

 

4.††††† In what ways does 2 Peter 1:3-11 summarize what we have studied in these verses?

 

References:

Jesusí 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.