Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
Today, we look at the final words in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.
This sermon is vital for a Christian to read because it shows us how to live as Jesus did. He covered everything: blessings, the Law (and how he fulfilled it), murder, adultery, marriage, oath-taking, going the extra mile for someone, loving our enemies, how to pray, praying for our enemies, fasting, money, worry, judging others, taking the narrow path and more. His ideas were, at the time, extraordinary and unique. They still are. Can you imagine any government that, instead of going to war, would sit down and pray for their enemies? What a world we would live in if we all followed Jesus. May His Kingdom come!
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 your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
The above verse is one (of many) that prosperity teachers use to enforce the false belief that if we keep asking God for what we want, He'll give it to us because He gives good things to those who ask. Unfortunately, the dollar signs in their eyes make it hard for prosperity teachers to see the truths in this verse. So what was Jesus really saying?
Read Matthew 7:1-6
I think these verses on judging others in Matthew 7:1-6 are probably the hardest for Christians to tackle. Because whether we realize it or not, we always make snap judgments about people in one form or another. I once went into a jewellery store to buy my daughter a fancy present for Christmas. Three things you need to know first before I tell this story:
At the time, I used a walker to get around (I need a wheelchair now). When I stepped into that jewellery store, every person in the store turned to look at me. I mean, really, look at me. They looked me up and down and decided en masse that I was not worthy of their time. They judged me by my looks. They assumed I had no money to spend. I wasn't dressed appropriately for their "fine" establishment, and I certainly didn't fit the part of someone with money to spend. But I did have money to spend, yet no one in the store offered to help me or even said hello. Five sales clerks turned away from me as if I wasn't there. I felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.
And as Julia said, "They made a big mistake. Big. Huge." I went shopping somewhere else. Clearly, they judged me based on their standards. So these verses today got me wondering. How often do Christians do the same thing? John 7:24 says, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment." That means we are to have discernment.
Discernment enables us to listen to our "Spidey senses" if we meet someone and feel immediately uncomfortable or unsafe. Discernment helps us when listening to a preacher who says something contrary to Scripture. Discernment does not create division or hatred. Discernment is listening to the Holy Spirit and acting accordingly. It is not hateful, spiteful, arrogant or pushy as judging someone can be.
But judging is when we try to force our views, expectations or opinions on someone else. Instead of judging by God's standards, we judge by our own standards and preferences, which often leads to disagreements within the church. This is not discernment. This is judging.
As I discussed in previous posts, the Pharisees were religious leaders. In his parables and sermons, Jesus liked to use them as examples of how not to behave. They judged people by the law's letter, not the spirit, and so they judged others based on their own behaviour and beliefs. But Jesus said in Matthew 7:2, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Don't judge people at all. Because if you judge people the way the Pharisees do, you will be judged with the same severity." Jesus' intent is seen by his use of the words "speck" and "plank" in Matthew 7:3-4. Judgmental people are arrogant, prideful, foolish and spiteful. They lack discernment. They can't see a person for who they really are. They may, like the Pharisees, "know" the Scriptures inside out, but they don't know how to "live" them.
An excellent example is a parable Jesus told of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to the Temple to pray.
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:24, NKJV).
Matthew six is about getting to the heart of our “heart condition.” Jesus called the Pharisees (religious teachers) hypocrites by pointing out all they did to gain God’s favour. They made a point of letting others know when they were doing something charitable (Matthew 6:1-4). They loudly prayed so everyone would know they were pious and devout (Matthew 6:5-7). They let everyone know when they were fasting (Matthew 6:16-18) by dressing in mourning garb and making their appearance look bad. Jesus called out their self-righteousness by saying they did none of this for God but to gain respect and admiration from their fellow man.
The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
As Jesus continues with his sermon on the mount, we can see how he addresses the issues of his day and brings them all together. Matthew 6 begins by talking about the practices of the hypocrites (Pharisees) in regards to fasting, praying and doing good deeds in public. He notes that they do all these things to be glorified within themselves. They did not do any of these things for God at all.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Immediately after the verses above, Jesus talks about the hypocritical ways of the Pharisees. He spoke of their love of being seen doing good deeds, praying in public and their need to let everyone know they were fasting. When we take Matthew 6:1-34 into context, it is easy to see that Jesus' message to us is to place our trust in God alone. He is our treasure.
Our relationship with God should be more valuable to us than any other relationship. The Pharisees emphasized what the people saw them doing - good deeds, praying in public and fasting. They wanted the people to see how great they were. Their treasure was to receive admiration and praise from others. Their reputations were more important to them than their relationship with God. So the verse above isn't just above money. It's about what we value most in this life - our jobs, our reputations, our appearance, our "things," our family or friends.
So how do we "lay up" treasures in heaven? What should those treasures look like? They should include daily time in the Word of God because time spent reading God's Word is well-invested. We get to know Him through His Word, and our relationship grows and deepens. We learn how to abide in Him, and through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, He abides in us. And that is our greatest treasure.
Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Matthew 6:16-18, NKJV
Did you ever wonder who the hypocrites were that Jesus was talking about or why he called them hypocrites? In most cases, he was talking about the Pharisees. There were regular fast times (Leviticus 16:29-31). However, the Pharisees added two fast days God did not command. Monday and Thursday were designated to allow for public display and piety. Luke 18:9-14 even mentions these two days of fasting. The Pharisees regarded the practice of fasting as praiseworthy and appeared in the synagogues with sad looks on their faces and wearing mourning garb. They did this to show the people that their “righteousness” and piety were far superior to everyone else.
Read Matthew 6:9-13
Continuing with Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, we now come to the most famous prayer in the Bible - The Lord's Prayer. Jesus has just explained that we are not to be like the hypocrites who make a great show of the fact they are praying to God (Matthew 6:5) and encourages us to pray to God privately. While there are many examples of how Jesus prayed (Matthew 26:39, Mark 1:35, John 17), the Lord's Prayer gives us a template for the correct way to approach God and what our prayers should look like. If you are new to prayer The Lord's Prayer is a good example to follow. But, as you grow in your faith so will your prayers and your relationship with God. You will find that you are praying "without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and your prayers will be more specific. But the basic approach to prayer that Jesus' gives us in Matthew 6:9-13 is a good one to follow.
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men,
In Matthew 5:16, Jesus said, "Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." Yet, in the verses above, it seems Jesus contradicts himself by telling us to do our charitable deeds in secret. So what did he mean? Was he contradicting himself? Not at all! In fact, when we read the verses above in context, we can see they come after Jesus has discussed loving our enemies. The main reason he admonishes us to love our enemies is the same reason he tells us to be a light to the world – so that others may see our good works and glorify God. It is the intent of the heart that is the message here. If you are doing good deeds to make people think better of you, you are doing them for the wrong reasons. If you volunteer to help those less fortunate because it looks good on your resume, your heart is in the wrong place. Jesus would call you a hypocrite because you want praise from others for your volunteer work.
Read Matthew 5:43-48
Continuing with our study of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus once again says some tricky things. Love your enemy? How is that even possible? How are we supposed to love those who murder innocent children? How are we supposed to love those who persecute us for our faith? How could Jesus ask that, and how do we reasonably implement it? Fortunately, by digging into Scripture, we find our answers. More importantly, we discover that the NIV leaves out crucial verses that would have made what Jesus said about loving our enemies so much easier to understand.