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Sunday, June 16th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 7

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Verse 1

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

This verse is one of the most misunderstood and begins one of the most abused sections of Jesus’ sermon. In an attempt to justify their sinful actions, some appeal to these words as proof that no one may indict them. Others quote this verse in an attempt to justify cultural relativism. Because many no longer recognize a definitive standard of truth (John 17:17), the notion has developed that every action and opinion is of equal value and that no one has the right to judge another. If man can convince himself that no standard exists, then personal responsibility is eliminated. Each may then act uninhibited and without hurting his conscience.

Clearly Jesus is not condemning all judgment. In fact, verses 15-20 of this same chapter show that false teachers must be condemned. We must discriminate between right and wrong. The apostle John reminds us to test the spirits (1 John 4:1). He further says that false teachers are to be rejected (2 John 1:10). Paul tells the Galatians to reject any "other gospel" (Galatians 1:6-9).

It is equally clear that Jesus is not condemning judgment in a civil court of law (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-15). God ordains government and judicial power.

Neither is the Lord prohibiting church discipline. Clearly there are times when the unruly must be admonished and leaven purged (Matthew 18:15-18; 1 Corinthians 5:1-7; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 3:10).

The context of this passage shows that Jesus is condemning hypocritical judgment. Many of the Jewish elite (Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees) have a self-righteousness that results in the unjust condemnation of others (Matthew 23:4; John 7:24). Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican at the Temple is case in point (Luke 18:9-14).

In this verse the word "judge" (krinete) has reference to prejudicial or unfair condemnation (Broadus 155; Robertson 60). In fact, Luke’s parallel account specifically adds, "condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned" (Luke 6:37). Thus McGarvey is correct when he says, "All judging from surmise, or from insufficient premises, or from ill-will is prohibited" (69). See also John 7:24.

Verse 2

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

The would-be judge must remember that he himself will be judged. If we judge harshly, we will likely receive the same judgment from our fellow man and most certainly from God.

The statement Jesus gives is sobering. Who is merciful enough to request the same measure of mercy from God? Jesus says that only the merciful will obtain mercy (5:7) and that God will forgive us as we have forgiven (6:12, 14-15; 18:21-35). James reminds us that judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. He further instructs that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:9-13).

The obvious conclusion is that our treatment of others will affect how God applies to us His law of divine justice. Normally God does not judge in direct proportion to our sins because He is merciful (Psalms 103:8-14), but if we self-righteously and unmercifully judge others, God will hold us to the same strict standard. This is not to say that as long as we wink at the sins of others God will overlook ours (Acts 17:30). All will stand before a righteous Judge to give account of his deeds (Romans 14:11-12 l; 2 Corinthians 5:10). God’s mercy toward us, however, is directly related to our mercy toward others (Matthew 18:21-35).

Broadus beautifully summarizes the issue by quoting one writer who says, "I think him best and most faultless, who pardons others as if he himself sinned every day, yet abstains from sins as if he pardoned no one" (156).

Verse 3

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye: The word "mote" is archaic for the modern reader. Some translations render the Greek (karphos) as "speck" (NKJV) or "speck of sawdust" (NIV). Jesus is not referring to a minute piece of dirt, but rather to a piece of dried wood, chaff, or other small particle that might be blown into the eye and cause irritation (Robertson 60; Broadus 156). Thus Jesus is not comparing the tiniest sin to a large sin but is contrasting a large sin to a gigantic one.

but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye: Jesus uses the word "beam" to complete the picture. This word (dokos) refers to a log, plank, or squared timber such as might hold up a house (Earle 7; Barnes 76).

Jesus’ point is that before we hypocritically propose to extract a smaller, yet still significant, sin from our brother’s eye, we ought to first stop and look at our own eye. It is wholly unjust and unchristian to harshly judge another while missing our own gross errors. It is like a blind ophthalmologist who imagines he is qualified to perform surgery on a patient with cataracts.

Verse 4

Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam [is] in thine own eye?

Jesus is not saying that our lives must be perfectly pure before we can convict others of sin; rather, we must first sincerely and humbly recognize and attempt to correct our own shortcomings before we propose to cure the same in our brother. Jesus is condemning the wrong attitude. McGarvey says Jesus’ statement:

must not be construed as requiring us to get rid of all faults before we attempt to correct others; for on this condition none would be qualified for the position of teachers; but it requires that we shall rid ourselves of a given fault preparatory to rebuking that fault in another (69).

Verse 5

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

In verse 4 Jesus describes a man who seemingly ignores the gross sin of his own life but sets about to rid his brother of error. Here Jesus gives the solution to the problem—the process by which both sinners can be cured. Notice the steps that are involved.

Thou hypocrite: We become hypocrites when we attempt to cure another of the same disease we refuse to cure in ourselves.

first cast out the beam out of thine own eye: Self-examination is the first step to curing the sins of others. The enormous problem in our own life must then be eradicated before we presume to scrutinize others.

and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye: Jesus implies that "judging" is lawful after we have first examined our own life. The problem Jesus addresses is hypocrisy and the unloving attitude that often accompanies it. Judging, in and of itself, is not condemned.

The illustration Jesus uses in this section is not unique. Broadus informs us that the Talmud uses the same picturesque speech several times. Furthermore, he cites two other classical writers who use much the same analogy (Broadus 157). Horace says, "While you see your own faults with eyes bleared and un-anointed, why is it that in the faults of your friends, your vision is as sharp as an eagle’s?" Seneca says, "You observe the pimples of others, when yourselves overgrown with a vast number of ulcers."

These quotes demonstrate that hypocrisy is an age-old problem, being recognized even by secular writers. Throughout the ages both the godly and the ungodly have struggled with this demon (note King David in 2 Samuel 12:1-15). Today we must be careful that in leading others to Christ we do not fall prey to this trap of the devil.

Verse 6

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Although in the previous verses Jesus warns against hypocritical judgment, He now illustrates that there comes a time when we must judge others. Not all men seek truth. For those who openly show such disdain, the precious and holy gospel must not be wasted.

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs: Dogs in biblical times do not enjoy as favorable a status as they do today. Except for those that are used in work, such as herding sheep, dogs are seldom a part of the typical Eastern household. Most dogs in ancient times are half-wild mongrels that run in packs and scavenge dead carcasses and offal (Broadus 157). Fowler calls them the "garbage disposal units of Palestine" (406). They are not only a despised nuisance but a public health hazard as well. They are often diseased, mangy, and viscous. In short, they are regarded with great abhorrence (see 1 Kings 14:11; 1 Kings 16:4; 1 Kings 21:19).

Jesus says that it is unthinkable to cast that which is "holy" to these undeserving mongrels. He obviously alludes to those sacrifices, especially the meat offerings, priests offer at the altar (Exodus 29:37). Some of this "holy meat" is burned as an offering to God, and some of it is eaten by the priests or the people. Leviticus instructs that no unclean person is to touch it, much less a wild, filthy, dog (6:27). Even the remains are to be burned with fire and are not to be cast out as with an ordinary meal (McGarvey 70) (see also Exodus 29:34; Leviticus 6:24-30; Leviticus 7:15-21).

Jesus is speaking of the truth of the gospel. He especially has the Pharisees and religious leaders in mind. John and Jesus have offered these leaders the truth of the gospel and a chance to repent, yet these leaders have taken that "holy" message and refused it. Thus, Jesus tells His apostles not to waste time on them or any others who show such contempt for God’s message.

Likewise today the believer must judge as he teaches others. He must be patient yet wise. When a sinner demonstrates an utter refusal or contempt for the gospel, the teacher must turn to more suitable prospects. Paul does this as he turns from the Jews to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46). Time is too short to waste on those who will not hear.

neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you: Jesus next says that it is unthinkable to throw pearls before swine. Again the illustration is spiritual. It is inappropriate to take the precious pearls of truth and cast them before those who obviously have no appreciation for them. Furthermore, like pigs, such people will perhaps not only reject the truth, but also "rend" the messenger in the process.

Jesus’ use of swine is important. Like dogs, Jews despise swine, the very epitome of uncleanness. At no point in Jewish history is this sentiment more vividly displayed than when Antiochus Epiphanes sacrifices a pig on the Jewish altar and forces the priests to eat. So heinous is his action that it sparks the Maccebean revolt against Greece around 168 B.C. Even today Jews refrain from the flesh of swine. Such distain for pigs sheds additional light on Lord’s parable of the "prodigal son," where He compares the loathsomeness of sin to "feeding pigs" (Luke 15:11-32).

As noted above, both swine and dogs typify perverseness. The apostle Peter uses both animals to demonstrate the disgusting plight of those who, after knowing the way of righteousness, turn from the holy commandment. He says, "But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog [is] turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire" (2 Peter 2:22).

Verse 7

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:

Jesus gives three important imperatives in this verse: ask, seek, and knock. All three are present tense, indicating continual action. Thus Jesus literally says, "go on again and again asking, seeking, knocking" (Lenski 293). Persistence is paramount.

By listing three actions and then by again repeating them in verse 8 Jesus unequivocally shows that God wants His children to have a constant, ongoing, relationship with Him. Furthermore, God wants His children to have an insatiable desire for spiritual things.

Asking, seeking, and knocking are all action verbs of inquiry. The sequence they are in demonstrates an increased intensity. First, one makes a verbal request for what he desires. But he is not content in stopping here and adds to it seeking. Hence his request is active not passive. It is an intense desire to not only have God’s blessings but to do whatever is required to get them. It is the epitome of a faith coupled with works. Knocking indicates a willingness to persist in spite of setbacks and difficulties.

The truth of this verse is demonstrated in Jesus’ parable of the midnight visitor (Luke 11:5-8). Just as the visitor’s persistence brings the householder from his bed to serve the needs of his guest, so God responds to our continual cries. God, however, does not reluctantly give to His children. Jesus shows in verse 11 that God delights in meeting our needs (Luke 11:13). The same point is made in Luke 18:1-8 in the parable of the persistent widow.

We must not construe this verse to mean that we can receive according to our own lusts (James 4:3). It is obvious that only the selfless servant is pleasing to God. Thus, verses 7 and 8 are not a blanket promise to the insincere, the wicked, or those who refuse Jesus’ lordship. The promise is reserved for the righteous.

Even when our requests are in accordance with His word, God answers according to His wisdom. One of the hardest things for us to realize is that "No" is an answer. The point of this verse is faith. Just as faith produces diligent knocking, so faith waits for God to open the doors He chooses.

Verse 8

For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Jesus promises a successful conclusion to our quest, contingent upon the truths above. Unlike false gods, our Father knows the things that we need even before we ask (6:8).

How comforting this is for the believer. The child of the King has the right to cast his petitions before God’s throne with full assurance that He cares. Furthermore, our King gives open invitation to our ongoing and constant pleas.

Verse 9

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

Or what man is there of you: Just as human parents have a deep seated love for their children and provide for them as they have opportunity, so God provides for His children.

whom if his son ask bread , will he give him a stone: The term bread (arton) has reference to the round, flat cakes that Palestinian women bake in their ovens in preparation for family meals (see 6:30). These cakes are similar in size, shape, and appearance to flat stones that might commonly be found in the fields or along the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Broadus 159). No father with any natural love takes one of these worthless rocks and tries to pass it off as food. Likewise, God does not trick His children but meets their needs.

Note that the similar appearance of stones and bread may be the reason for Satan’s statement in Matthew 4:3.

Verse 10

Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent

Another common Galilean food is fish (Mark 8:1-10; Luke 24:42; John 21:9). The Sea of Galilee provides abundant fishing, and many, including Simon, Andrew, James, and John, make their livelihood from it (Mark 1:16-20). Differences of opinion exist as to the exact nature of Jesus’ comparison, but notable commentators hold that Jesus is not referring to a live snake but to snake meat that is prepared so as to look like fish (Lenski 294; Robertson 61; McArthur 445). Thus the illusion is not to actually putting a child in danger but to deceiving him with something that is disgusting.

Because Jesus’ first illustration of stones obviously draws on a visible similarity to bread, the same may be true of fish meat and snake meat. Luke adds the dramatic idea of a scorpion being substituted for an egg (Luke 11:12). This illustration probably again draws on visible likeness because the large scorpions of the Near East, when curled up, look very much like a bird’s egg.

Verse 11

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: Jesus’ calling His listeners "evil" must be understood as a comparative. His audience, consisting of His closest disciples and others, consists of some of the finest people to whom He ever speaks. The word "evil" simply demonstrates the inherently superior nature of God’s care when compared to the care that a physical father gives his son. If human parents, with all of their flaws and imperfections, naturally demonstrate nourishing kindness, how much more will God perfectly care for His children.

In Luke’s account the term "Holy Spirit" is substituted for "good gifts" (Luke 11:13). This is appropriate when we consider that the Holy Spirit is the Father’s gift to those who believe and obey the gospel.

Verse 12

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

It seems evident that this verse more readily stands as a continuation of Jesus’ instruction on judging (7:1-5) than it does as a conclusion for the section in which it is found (7:7-11). Luke places the precept in the middle Jesus’ instruction on loving one’s enemies (Luke 6:31). Combining the synoptic accounts seems to indicate that Jesus repeats the truism more than once and at various places during His mountain sermon. In any event, the truth of this verse is timeless no matter what the context in which it is found.

This command has been called the "Golden Rule." It is practical law for daily living and remains the foundation of Scripture. Here Jesus says it is the essence of the law and the prophets. In other words, the very teaching of the Old Testament brings man into a correct relationship with God only by also bringing him into a correct relationship with his fellow man. One cannot be truly at peace with God if he is not at peace with man (Matthew 5:23-24; 1 John 4:20-21). James calls this the "royal law" (James 2:8).

do ye even so to them: Jesus indicates that we must take the initiative and extend to others the kindness we so desire. If we want to be treated well, we must first extend kindness to others. Broadus records a story in which a Gentile comes to the great Rabbi Shammai saying, "Make a proselyte of me on this condition, that you teach me the whole law while I stand on one foot" (i.e., give me the short of Judaism and cut to its very essence!—jmc). Shammai, however, drives the man away with his long staff. The man then requests the same from the prestigious but kinder Rabbi Hillel, who complies by saying, "What is hateful to thee, do not do to another, this is the whole law; the rest is explanation of it" (Broadus 161).

As with the case of verse 5, this general truth is similarly recorded in secular writings. Confucius says, "Do not unto others that which you would not they should do unto you." Socrates says, "What you are angry at when inflicted on you by others, this do not do to others." Aristotle, Philo, and Seneca express similar ideas.

It should be noted, however, that Jesus’ point is not to simply reiterate the sentiment of uninspired men. Jesus raises the dictate to sublime standards. Confucius, Aristotle, Philo, and Seneca might state the truth, but their statements arise from human hearts that are bound by selfishness and the desire to be spared from the ill will of others (Fowler 416). Jesus’ teaching in every instance, and especially here, sets God as the divine standard. His love is the attitude we must espouse, and Jesus’ selflessness must be our proper motivation (Philippians 2:1-11).

Verse 13

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide [is] the gate, and broad [is] the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

After demonstrating in chapter 6:19-21 that man’s existence reaches beyond this mortal life, Jesus shows that all will spend eternity in one of only two possible places.

Enter ye in at the strait gate: Jesus paints a vivid picture of two walled cities with differing paths and gates leading into them. Such an illustration is fitting for His listeners since most ancient cities, including Jerusalem, have fortified walls and a single main gate for entrance.

In reality, Jesus is warning that life is a preparation ground for eternity. Thus, the contrast He makes is not whether but where we will spend eternity. Fowler says, "The emphasis is not on the entering, as opposed to remaining outside since all of humanity is regarded as entering one gate of the other. Rather the emphasis is on the choice of the right gate" (419).

As will be noted, the most unlikely gate is the one that leads to life. In order to be saved, one must enter this gate not just admire or meditate on it. Many in the world admire Jesus, think that His teachings are good, and even pay lip service to Him but never make the commitment that puts them through the gate and on the path of eternal life.

The King James Version calls this gate the "strait gate." The word used here for strait (stenos) literally means "narrow." McArthur says that it comes from a root meaning "to groan" as from being under pressure. Figuratively, it denotes a restriction or constriction (455). Thus, the way into the kingdom of heaven is exceedingly narrow, allowing for only God’s plan and Jesus’ teaching. This gate is not wide enough for self-righteousness, sinfulness, or pride.

In Luke’s gospel Jesus says, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate" (Luke 13:24). The word "strive" (agonizomai) is the same word from which we get our modern word "agony." Thus entering the kingdom is not a leisurely stroll. To enter requires an intense, concentrated, perhaps even painful dedication (see Luke 16:16; Acts 14:22). Very few are willing to make such a sacrifice.

for wide [is] the gate, and broad [is] the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: In contrast to the first gate, there is another through which the multitudes flow. This gate is "wide." It poses few restrictions and the path through it is "broad." The word our Lord uses here (eurychoros) is a compound word coming from eurys (broad) and chora (country). Ralph Earle says,

So it suggests the fact that the broad way is wide-open country, with no fences of boundaries…there are no rules or regulations to hinder one from doing just what he pleases. On the broad road one may go anywhere he wants to and live as undisciplined a life as he chooses. He need not worry about getting off the road. He can’t! (8).

Thus the picture is that of an open, unfenced countryside where throngs of people, without sacrifice or restriction, flock through the gate to hell. This picture perfectly fits the mass of humanity. Having placed themselves in control, they care little for God’s way and His law. Like wayward sheep without out a Good Shepherd they wander wherever their fleshly whims and passions dictates. Such a life will ultimately end in destruction.

Verse 14

Because strait [is] the gate, and narrow [is] the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

In verse 14 Jesus continues His illustration of the narrow gate that He begins in the first part of verse 13. Here He describes the path connected to the gate. The word "narrow" is the perfect passive participle of thilbo which means "press" or "compress" (Earle 8). An apt picture is that of squeezing and pressing grapes to obtain juice. Robertson gives the analogy of a tight place between high rocks (61). It is the same root translated "afflicted" in 2 Corinthians 1:6 and "troubled" in 2 Corinthians 4:8.

The way that leads to life is opposite from the wide-open way the masses trod. It is a tight, narrow, lonely path where one travels in solitude and singularity (Barnes 78). It is a path fraught with difficulty and hardship. It is that path where one’s cross is carried, where the cost must be counted, and where one’s own household may be his enemies (Matthew 10:36; Luke 14:25; John 16:33; Acts 14:22). Yet this is the path where The Good Shepherd leads with love (Psalms 23:3).

Today, where secular evil abounds and where religious ecumenicalism is lauded, it is difficult to make others see that there is only one narrow way. When believers face hardship and persecution, they take the "road less traveled." The world flows toward destruction, but Christians choose the living way of righteousness.

Verse 15

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

Contextually this section is an apt continuation of the thoughts expressed in verses 13 and 14. Not only do we have the obligation to find the narrow gate and walk the restricted path, but also we must be vigilant against those false prophets that would shepherd us away from God.

Beware of false prophets: False prophets (pseudopropheton) are always a problem among God’s people. Just as God sends willing men to proclaim His word, so Satan dispatches servants to pervert the truth. These men are not always easily discernable to the untrained eye. Sometimes they subtlety disguise themselves as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). In the Old Testament Moses indicates that false prophets might even perform miracles (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Moses mentions, however, that revelation must always take precedence over miracle. Signs must be rejected if they contradict the already written and revealed word of God.

Many who do not study God’s word are led astray by amazing events, apparitions, unexplainable phenomena, and emotional encounters. Still others fall victim to the "lying wonders" of false prophets. Jesus warns about these signs in Matthew 24:24 as does Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:9. We must remember that the test for veracity must be based on doctrine and not on experience (Galatians 1:8). Our senses may deceive us into thinking all is safe when, in reality, wolves surround us.

The New Testament constantly warns against false prophets. Paul warns the Ephesians of grievous wolves that would enter the flock (Acts 20:29 ff.). He warns the Galatians of those who would pervert the gospel (Galatians 1:7). Likewise, in Romans 16:17-18 he tells the Romans to mark those who cause division and offense (See also 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Corinthians 11:26; Galatians 1:8). Similarly, Peter warns of those who deny the Lord and bring in destructive heresies (2 Peter 2:1). John also says that many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1; 2 John 1:10). See also Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 2:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12; Titus 1:10; Judges 1:4; Revelation 2:2; Revelation 2:14-15; Revelation 2:20; Revelation 19:20).

Apostasy and error are not only possible in religion but are probable. Souls can be lost and the church damaged by false prophets and their damnable doctrines. This is why Paul commands Timothy to commit God’s word to "faithful" men who would be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).

which come to you in sheep’s clothing: The subtleness of false prophets is seen by the fact they wear "sheep’s clothing." There are two possible interpretations of this phrase.

The first interpretation reminds us of Aesop’s fable in which a wolf, after finding a sheep’s skin, disguises himself and destroys the flock. If this is the picture Jesus intends, then He is talking about false prophets who initially appear righteous. Outwardly they look like one of the flock and may even be welcomed into the fold. Inconspicuously they mingle with the sheep, taking note of the young, the weak, and the discontent. They feign piety as they commune at the table and give lip service to the Shepherd. Even though their wool is soft, their hearts are hard. Few suspect that they are ferocious beasts waiting to spring from cloaks of deceit and hungrily devour.

It is not easy to detect these false prophets. The novice eye may miss the signs of their diabolical nature. When they open their mouths, however, the wool between their teeth and their ungodly howl give them away (Hebrews 5:14).

The second possibility, however, is that Jesus may not be speaking about false prophets who impersonate sheep but those who impersonate the shepherd. If this is the case, then these perverters of truth are much more difficult to recognize than the dogs and swine mentioned in verse 6.

While only a minority of commentators holds to this interpretation, it does have merit. Old Testament shepherds traditionally wear a sheepskin that has the skin on the outside and the fleece on the inside (Barclay 282). Similarly, Barclay points out that often prophets wear garments that distinguish them from other men. Elijah, for example, apparently wears a type of hairy mantle (1 Kings 19:13; 1 Kings 19:19; 2 Kings 1:8), and John the Baptist wears a garment of camel’s hair. Thus, prophets can be identified by their plain, course attire. Zechariah seems to allude to this when he speaks of those who "put on a hairy mantle in order to deceive" (Zechariah 13:4-5).

According to this interpretation, Jesus is saying that not all who look like shepherds actually are. Thus, the illustration depicts a pseudo-pastor who pretends to care for the sheep. He may learn their names and do those superficial things that indicate concern (John 10:3), but quite unlike the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, this man sacrifices the flock instead (Psalms 23; John 10:11).

but inwardly they are ravening wolves: Peter warns that our adversary is like a roaring lion seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Here Jesus uses similar language and calls Satan’s servants "ravenous wolves" (lukoi harpages). In both cases the same viciousness is described. The term "ravenous" conveys greed. The same root is translated "extortioner" elsewhere in the New Testament (Luke 18:11; 1 Corinthians 5:10). The idea is that these false prophets are greedy, power-hungry, self-centered men who are interested only in personal gain (1 Timothy 6:5).

Verse 16

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

Ye shall know them by their fruits: Deception is temporary. Wolves may wear wool for a while, but because they are not sheep, eventually their coats will wear thin or rip, and their ugly forms will protrude.

In helping His followers unmask the false prophets, Jesus switches His analogy in this verse to that of a fruit tree. One may tell how good the tree is by inspecting its fruits.

The fruit trees’ primary purpose is to produce fruit. They may be beautiful, decorative, provide excellent shade, or be good for a thousand other things, but if they do not bring forth tasty produce, they are cut and burned (Matthew 3:10; Matthew 7:19; Luke 13:6-9).

Likewise, the real test of prophets is not how flashy they dress, how well they speak, nor how popular they are. One is not even to judge them solely by their words. In fact, one might speak the truth and yet lead others astray by a life filled with sin (1 Timothy 4:12). The test of genuine prophets is the good fruit they bear. If they are morally upright, shed abroad the love of Jesus, are spiritually minded, and their words and works are in accordance with God’s will, then we may follow them.

If, however, they spread dissention, harbor unrepentant sin, are carnally minded, follow after their own lusts, or teach false doctrine, they are to be branded as false prophets and rejected (Romans 16:17; 1 Timothy 1:3-7; Titus 1:16).

A careful study of a person’s life is necessary to determine whether or not he is a false prophet. Such study often requires time. Paul tells Timothy, "Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later" (1 Timothy 5:24, NKJV). While the church cannot sit idly by and close its eyes to suspected evil, neither is suspicion or hasty judgment appropriate. Fowler says that sometimes it takes a while for the prophets’ actual fruit to mature, adding that while vigilance is mandatory, the church is not well served by "over zealous heresy hunters" (424).

Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles: Jesus further illustrates his point by asking a rhetorical question, the obvious answer to which is, "No!"

The root determines what kind of fruit will be produced. The vine that produces grapes is a grapevine. If the plant has a thorn bush root, the plant that grows up will be full of thorns. Even if someone sticks a few grapes on the thorn bush, or even if a few figs are stuck on the thistle tree, the deception will not last long. Eventually the true nature of the plant is revealed. The same is true with prophets. James uses this same analogy in teaching that the fruit of the tongue is a product of the heart root (James 3:11-12). See also Luke’s parallel in 6:43-45.

Verses 17-18

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither [can] a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

Jesus’ point is that it is impossible to produce fruit different from one’s nature. Trees exemplify this principle in that "each brings forth after its own kind." Although an evil man might fool others for a time, eventually his true nature will be revealed.

Verse 19

Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Just as sure as God rewards those who produce good fruit, so He will certainly punish those who bring forth evil fruit. "Every tree" indicates that all must give an account of their actions. One who claims to be a part of the Lord’s orchard and finds himself surrounded by good, productive fruit trees is not necessarily acceptable to God because each tree is judged by its own fruit.

Complete destruction is reserved for the "evil" tree. Notice the deliberateness of this multi-step process. First, the tree is inspected for fruit. Next, the fruit is assessed and found to be bad. Third, the tree is chopped down. Lastly, it is burned, eliminating the opportunity for it to produce bad fruit again. The illustration of "burning" is used elsewhere in Scripture to denote punishment of the wicked (Matthew 3:10; Luke 13:6-9; John 15:6).

Verse 20

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

This is the concluding verse in this section, and it provides both a comfort and a warning. God does not leave us to wonder about teachers who come our way. He gives the keys to determining their nature: inspect the fruit and listen carefully to their words. See also Romans 16:18, and 2 Timothy 3:10.

Verse 21

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

This verse is closely linked to the previous section. Here Jesus says that we must "do" what the Father commands (the "good fruits" of verse 20).

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: While confession of Jesus’ lordship is mandatory, such does not automatically guarantee a place in heaven (Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8; Romans 10:9-10). Many will call Jesus "Lord" yet deny Him by their actions. Jesus is one’s "Lord" only when one gives his life totally to Him.

but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven: The real test of discipleship is action. Jesus demands we have a working faith. James illustrates this in his epistle by saying that faith without works "is dead, being alone" (2:17). He further says that an inactive faith makes us no better than the demons because even they believe and tremble (James 2:14-26). It is not enough to hear and believe God’s word or even to acknowledge the authority of Jesus Christ. One must obey in order to be saved. Those who suggest that salvation is by "faith alone" (i.e., mental assent, without responsibility) are mistaken. While man never merits his own salvation, he must obey the will of God in order to be saved.

Verse 22

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

Many will say to me in that day: Here Jesus emphasizes the final judgment. "That day" refers to the time when all shall stand before God and give an account of their deeds (Revelation 20:12).

Lord, Lord: Jesus paints a heartbreaking scene. At the final judgment there will stand before Him those who, by earthly standards, are good. Although their repetitious cry "Lord, Lord" might be genuine, earnest, and sincere, they are still condemned. Some of these are people who come to the final judgment after death, having already spent centuries in "torment" (Luke 16:19-31). Now they stand before their Judge and once again plead their hopeless case.

have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works: "Have we not done many wonderful works" implies that they expected Jesus to affirm their action and reverse their awful sentence. Instead He says, "I never knew you" (verse 23).

This verse is difficult to understand. Is Jesus actually acknowledging that miracles and good works are performed by those whom He condemns? Or are these people simply deceived into thinking that they have accomplished these things for Him? Four basic positions exist among expositors in explaining this verse.

1. These may be evil individuals God uses to accomplish some specific purpose. Balaam the false prophet actually speaks God’ truth (Numbers 23:5). Likewise, Caiaphas, the wicked high priest, unwittingly prophesies that Jesus will die for the people (John 11:51). Thus it is possible to be used by God for His purpose without actually being true to Him. Such an interpretation here, however, is problematic. If these people are of this evil category, then why do they use the defense that they have done "many" good works? If God has used them in only some limited sense, their claim is absurd. Furthermore, the focus of their statement is what "they" have done "for" God not what "God" has done "through" them.

2. These may be those whose power comes from Satan. Scripture does not deny that "wonders" are performed by the power of the devil. Jesus warns of false prophets that arise and show great signs (Matthew 24:24). Paul foretells of a lawless one who will perform signs and lying wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10). The glaring problem here, however, is how these people can cast out demons by Satan’s power (if indeed their claims are true). When Jesus is accused of doing such things He says, "If Satan casts out Satan he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?" (Matthew 12:26).

3. These may be those whose claims are simply false. Their good works and miracles are fake. They were able to deceive their fellow man but not God. Again the problem arises as to why such a defense is made at the final judgment? Why does one who has already spent time in "torment" for deception now stand before the Lord and try to exonerate himself with more lies?

4. A final option, and the one that probably holds the most merit, is that these people are those who sincerely think they are followers of Jesus. They view themselves as part of the Lord’s flock and probably even mingle with the Lord’s true sheep. They participate, or at least think they are participating, in true service for Jesus. They even view themselves as miracle workers. Unfortunately, they are caught up in an elaborate web of self-deception. In reality they are part of the "masses" that travel the wide road. As in verse 13, Jesus identifies them as part of the "many."

The words of our Lord serve the "Christian community" well. Many in the religious world profess the name of Jesus, live good moral lives, and even view themselves as miracle workers. In reality, however, they are deceived. They deny Jesus by following the doctrines and commandments of men (Matthew 15:9). What a sad awakening on that day when they find themselves cast out.

The Lord’s words are just as apt for the church. It is possible to call Jesus "Lord," commune around His table, associate with fellow Christians, be theologically correct, and do all the expected acts of service yet never be truly converted. Jesus wants a heart that is totally submissive to Him. He, not us, must be Lord of our lives. On the judgment day it will be sad for many who lived their lives thinking they knew Jesus though He never knew them. Their relationship is one-sided, based on human whims and notions.

Verse 23

And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

And then will I profess unto them: This phrase (homologeso autios) begins Jesus’ future condemnation of those who will stand before Him. Interestingly, here Jesus uses the very same word as is found in Matthew 10:32 where He commands to publicly and openly confess Him before men. Thus the condemnation and doom of the wicked on the final day will be openly announced to all (Robertson 63). Our works will be laid bare before God and our fellow men.

I never knew you: "I never knew you" is a Hebrew idiom that means to have an intimate relationship with someone. In fact, it is often used to refer to the marriage union (Genesis 4:1; Genesis 4:17; MacArthur 479). Jesus’ words indicate that He does not then, nor has He ever had, a real and intimate relationship with these people. They have lived their lives thinking that they know Jesus, but the relationship is one sided and is not based on the Lord’s terms.

There is no room for self-will in Jesus’ kingdom. We may sincerely think that Jesus is our friend, but if we walk after our own will, as apparently these people do, Jesus will deny us. Jesus says, "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23). True intimacy with Jesus is found in obedience.

depart from me: No sadder words can be found than "depart from me." In Christ is life, joy, peace, faith, hope, and love. To be cast away from Him is to lose everything of lasting value. Especially tragic is that this condemnation is not temporary but is the final judgment of those who will spend eternity in hell. The same basic condemnation is found in Matthew 25:41 where Jesus says, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."

The reason that these people are cast away is not because they have struggled with occasional sins. Indeed all believers stumble yet find comfort in Jesus’ continual healing (1 John 1:7). The kind of disobedience here is constant, unrepentant rebellion. The Greek is a present participle indicating continuous, regular action. It represents a pattern of life.

Continual sin is incompatible with God’s plan for our lives. He has provided the blood of Jesus to cleanse us initially and continually, but we must strive to walk in the light. We must be willing to humbly repent and constantly confess our sins (James 5:16; 1 John 1:9). Continual and willfully doing evil will lead to eternal damnation. May those who deny the reality of hell take heed.

Verse 24

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:

Having warned of impending judgment on the wicked, Jesus now focuses on escaping condemnation and utter ruin. He paints a picture of two builders, floods, and storms all of which are familiar to those of Palestine where floods and storms are prevalent (Mark 4:37; Luke 8:23).

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them: As in the previous section, Jesus says the key to successful discipleship is doing the Lord’s will. In verse 21 Jesus addresses "saying and doing." Here His focus is "hearing and doing." In both cases action is paramount. It matters little what one says or hears if he does not do the Lord’s will.

I will liken him unto a wise man: Jesus describes this man as "wise." The Greek word (phronmimos) denotes a prudent and intelligent builder who assesses his situation and acts wisely.

which built his house upon a rock: The word "rock" Jesus uses here is peterra. It does not mean a small stone or even a boulder but has reference to a huge outcropping—an immense expanse of bedrock. This same word is found in Matthew 16:16-18 where it is used to describe Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Son of God.

The wise builder takes deliberate action in preparing for the future because he knows storms will come. First, he locates a place where there is bedrock. Next, he digs deep to hit the rock (Luke 6:48). Third, he lays a strong foundation. Finally, he builds his house.

Similarly, our spiritual lives must be planned. Discipleship is not easy and the cost must be counted. Following Jesus is labor intensive. Unless we are willing to work by the sweat of our spiritual brows to dig deep and lay the proper foundation, we will crumble beneath Satan’s temptations and God’s final inspection. God’s building codes are strict and require total dedication to Him.

No structure is any stronger than the foundation upon which it is built. If we want lives that will withstand not only the storms of life but also the final judgment, then Jesus’ word must be the rock upon which we build. Jesus says in Matthew 24:35, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." James likewise says that the word of the Lord endures forever (James 1:25). It is this immovable word by which we will be judged on the final day (John 12:48).

Verse 25

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.

As will be noted, both builders face the same storm. Thus, they are probably neighbors and have much in common. One of them, however, has the advantage of having a stronger house. This advantage does not come from wealth, talent, or popularity but from choice. He is not given the advantage but gains it by choosing to obey the Lord’s word.

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house: Jesus describes the storm’s ferocity in elaborate detail. The house is surrounded by peril. Rain falls (katabaino—descended), floods (potamos—torrents) rise, and winds beat upon the house. The term "beat upon" (prospipto) literally means to "fall against" as a man might hurl himself headlong against a door (Broadus 170). No part of the house is spared, yet through it all the house withstands the onslaught. The key is that it is founded (tethemelioto) upon a rock.

and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock: Beauty is not proof of a structure’s durability. Durability results from having a solid foundation, quality structural materials, and quality workmanship. This man’s house stands because of its strong foundation.

The same is true of the Christian’s life. Many believers spend their time chasing life’s fleeting fancies. They engross themselves with increasing wealth, getting the finest education, building the finest homes, and driving the best cars while their spiritual lives go wanting. No amount of physical wealth can save us when we stand before God in judgment. Only those treasures that have been laid up in heaven will count (Matthew 6:19).

Verse 26

And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:

And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not: Jesus now turns His attention to the foolish builder. Notice first that both builders have the same opportunity to hear Jesus’ teachings. Both understand the His words. The difference is what each does with what he hears.

shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: The fool’s (moros) decision to build on the sand stands in stark contrast to the wise man’s decision to build upon the rock. Why would any man build upon shifting sand? Several reasons are apparent.

1. Building on the sand is easy. Unlike digging down to bedrock, building on sand requires little effort. Many Christians follow this example when they demonstrate no real dedication to Jesus. While professing Christ’s name they are lazy toward the arduous task of living for the Him. Self-discipline, self-sacrifice, and daily bearing their cross prove too much a commitment. Real Christianity, however, is difficult. Paul describes it as a battle (2 Corinthians 10:3-7; Ephesians 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7). It is a bloody war where soldiers of the cross stand firmly against the onslaught of Satan (1 Corinthians 16:13).

2. Building on the sand is quick. Building on sand, one can see the results of his labor almost immediately. Many Christians are in a hurry. They do not realize that serving the Lord is life-long process. McArthur speaks of this type of man and says, "His first desire is to please himself, and he takes the shortest route to that end. In church work he wants the quick, easy solution, the one that causes the least controversy and hassle, with no consideration of how the solution may square with Scripture" (McArthur 484).

3. Building on the sand is superficial so no quality standards are consulted. Many Christians are much the same way. They are interested in looking like Christians and in obtaining the benefits that go along with calling Jesus, "Lord," but their lives are facades. To those who pass by they appear righteous, but closer inspection reveals their foundation is riddled with cracks. The Pharisees are prime examples of this kind of person. At a glance they appear religious, but inwardly they have little substance.

Verse 27

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house: The same fierce storm described in verse 25 now falls upon the foolish man. Unlike the house of the wise man, the foolish man’s house does not withstand the onslaught.

and it fell: and great was the fall of it: This is not a partial collapse but is a total ruin of all that he has built. Nothing is left. Nothing is worth salvaging. All is lost.

Our Master’s point is that those who do not obey His commands will likewise meet total disaster. Partial obedience is not sufficient and will not save us on the day of judgment. Thankfully, Jesus is talking about one’s way of life. All true believers make mistakes and occasionally find their lives in need of spiritual repair. Occasionally structural reinforcement is necessary through repentance, prayer, and rededication to the Lord. But the foolish builder is unconcerned with his foundation. He chooses to blindly ignore problems in his life. He has neither the dedication nor the inclination to seek remedy. This kind of life will end in utter ruin.

Everyone is a builder. All are laying up treasure somewhere. The wise person realizes, however, that this life will soon be over. It is as a mist soon burned by death (James 4:14). He knows the only things that will last are those acts of obedience which will follow him to judgment.

Verse 28

And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:

And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings: This final comment by Matthew draws Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to a close. His sermon does not fall on deaf ears. Chapter 8:1 says that many thereafter follow Him. Notice, however, the initial response to Jesus’ discourse and the reason for their reaction.

the people were astonished at his doctrine: The word "astonished" (ekplesso) is a compound word coming from ek (out of) and plesso (strike). The expression literally means the people who hear our Lord are "struck out of their minds" with amazement (Earle 8).

Verse 29

For he taught them as [one] having authority, and not as the scribes.

The people are not impressed because Jesus is an animated and flamboyant speaker—Jesus quietly sits during this sermon (5:1). They are not impressed because He flashes His educational credentials before them—in fact He has no formal training at all (John 7:15). They are not impressed with His complex theology—He teaches them in the simplest manner possible. Rather, they are impressed because of His "doctrine" (didache) and "authority" (exousia). These two things Jesus did not receive from rabbinical training but from His Father (Matthew 28:18; John 12:49).

Jesus’ discourse has substance. It is not a mere repetition of tradition, but rather provides a depth of content never before seen. Commentators agree that the common person of Jesus’ time generally hears nothing more than the opinions of the rabbis who have come before. Robertson says that the scribes are even afraid to express an idea without bolstering it up by some predecessor (63). Such scribal sermons were anything but interesting. Robertson comments on some of these sermons found in the Jewish Talmud as some of the "driest, dullest collection of disjointed comments upon every conceivable problem in the history of mankind" (63). Not so with our Lord. In this sermon He deals with real issues: how to live righteously before God and in harmony with mankind. This focus helps give the people a handle on day-to-day living.

What a refreshing relief it must be for these simple, thirsty minds to be splashed for the first time with the water of life. What satisfaction they must feel as their hungry bellies digest eternal bread. Never have they encountered such wisdom, insight, and depth. But neither have they heard such condemnation of their hypocritical group of religious leaders.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 7". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/matthew-7.html. 1993-2022.
 
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