Monday, January 13, 2014

Matthew 7: Judging Truth from Error


Matt 7:1-5, 12 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you...So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. 

Matt 7:13-27 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' 

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."

Many Christians read Jesus' exhortation to "judge not" in Mt 7:1 to mean we should not make any moral judgment about others' conduct. Perhaps, Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of this verse will help clarify the meaning: "Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults — unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging"  (Mt 7:1-2, Message). Here Jesus is warning us against the critical spirit that sees faults in others but not in ourselves. In fact, in the verses following, Jesus elaborates on what he has just said in verses 1 and 2: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." So, Jesus is not saying we cannot judge others, but rather we should not be hypocritical: we should first judge ourselves to remove the planks in our eyes, before we "remove the speck from your brother's eye."

But on what basis do we judge others?  Jesus states the Golden Rule as supreme: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (v.12). How we want to be judged will be the basis we judge others. If we like others to judge us fairly, then we should judge others fairly. If we want others to judge us gently, then we should judge others gently. If we want us to point out our faults and errors respectfully, then we should do the same for others, etc. In that way we won't come across as a hypocrite who judge others' misconduct without mercy while rationalizing our own misconduct.

The second principle of judgement has to do with discerning true from false faith. The basis for judging faith is not what one says but what one does: does faith lead to obedience to God's will (commands of Christ): "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

Here we must make a distinction between mere "work" of God with the will of God. It's possible to be doing the "work" of God (ministry) but yet live lives that are contrary to God's will. We all know of ministers or leaders who live double lives--who are publicly performing miraculous works but privately compromising moral standards in terms of financial integrity or sexual fidelity. Such people might be "active" in ministry but Jesus would not recognize them as His own. Like Judas Iscariot who went about publicly ministering in Jesus' name, though inwardly corrupted by embezzlement of the treasury. So just because someone is publicly doing the "work" of God, it does not automatically mean that they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The final principle of judgement has to do with discerning between listeners and doers. Or we may call that discerning between passive and active faith. Jesus tells the parable of the two builders to illustrate this point--one builds his house on sand while the other on rock. The two builders both heard the word of God. But the difference is not what they heard but what they did with what they heard: "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock" (7:24-25). It's not enough to have great sermons and exciting preachers. Listening to great sermons will not change us--the real change takes place when we repent (metanoia-change of mindsets)--from hearing to doing. Belief alone without obedience will not change us. True repentance starts with right teaching to renew our minds but it must result in the rejection of the world's belief systems to obey the word of God.

There are two approach to learning: the first emphasizes being before doing. This is essentially the Greek approach. But the Hebrew (biblical) approach is doing before being. In other words, we become what we do, not what we hear. The emphasis on being has resulted in much knowledge but very little action. The average church members can quote all the verses on evangelism--and still not win a single soul to Christ. Or discuss the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and never experience His power to heal the sick, deliver someone from demons or witness the transformation of lives.

Henry Blackaby in his book, Experiencing God, introduces the idea of knowing God by participating in His work. We can experience the presence and power of God as we join Him in His work. And in the process, we grow in our faith because "the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it" (Mark 16:20).

In these last days, we need discernment to judge between right and wrong conduct, between true and false teaching. We should not to the pressure to be politically correct to avoid being labelled a religious bigot. We have to stand by what is true and live accordingly.

Father, teach us to be bold to judge between truth and error, right and wrong and live our lives consistent with Your Word. Amen. 

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