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The Sermon on the Mount (concluded)
The connexion of thought in this chapter is less close than in the earlier part of the sermon, and the whole chapter bears the appearance of an appendix of miscellaneous practical maxims, many of which, however, may have really formed part of the sermon. The words about rash judgment, and about a tree being known by its fruit, as well as the striking conclusion, are found also in St. Luke’s sermon.
1-5. On the habit of criticising others (Luke 6:37-42). St. Luke’s account is here the fuller, and he places the section in a more satisfactory relation to what goes before. Our Lord condemns all forms of censoriousness. He calls censorious persons hypocrites, and says that they are worse than the people they criticise. They are worse because they lack love. As love is the highest, and indeed in the last resort the only Christian virtue, so the lack of it absolutely excludes from the kingdom where all is love. Such persons are also blind. They see their brother’s faults, but have no eyes for his virtues, and they neither see nor wish to see their own far greater faults.
1. Judge not] cp. Romans 2:1. Unkind and frivolous criticism is what is meant. Judgment as a serious and solemn act is not forbidden by Christ. It is indeed often the Christian’s duty to judge and severely to condemn things which the world never thinks of judging: cp. Matthew 18:15; 1 Corinthians 5:12; 2 Timothy 4:2.
2. With what measure ye mete (i.e. ’measure’)] A Jewish proverb. The rabbis said, ’In the measure that a man measureth, others measure to him.’
3. Mote] lit. ’a small dry twig or stalk.’ Here it stands for a relatively small fault.
The beam] i.e. the great roof-beam of a house, something a thousand times larger than the eye itself. Here it stands for ’want of love,’ the most monstrous, under Christ’s law, of all vices. Here Christ again adopts a Jewish proverb. It is said that when one Jewish judge criticised another and said, ’Cast out the mote out of thine eye,’ the other replied, ’Cast you out the beam out of your own eye.’
6. That the most holy things ought not to be offered indiscriminately to all persons. The earliest comment on this v. is in the ’Teaching’ (Didache): ’And let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, except those who have been baptised in the name of the Lord. For it is concerning this that the Lord hath said, Give not that which is holy unto the dogs.’ This correctly apprehends the principle, which is, of course, capable of wider application. Gore well says, ’We are not to shriek the highest truths of religion at a street corner. We are to wait till people show a desire for the deepest things before we offer them religion. Such was the method of the early Church. It went out into the world. It let all the world see the beauty of its life... But it did not teach them the secrets of its life—its Creed, its Eucharist, its Prayers—till they were ready for them, and showed their readiness at least by enquiry.’
6. That which is holy] in its literal sense the flesh of the sacrifices. Metaphorically it stands for all that is most holy in Christ’s religion, like the pearls below. Dogs.. swine] i.e. unclean and ferocious persons. They will trample on (i.e. revile and profane) what you offer them, and assail you with ridicule and blasphemy. While they are in this frame of mind, nothing can be done with them.
7-11. On urgency in prayer, and how God rewards it (Luke 11:9-13). God always answers urgent prayer. Every asker receives, every seeker finds. Yet not every asker receives what he asks, nor every seeker finds what he seeks. As an earthly father gives good gifts to his children, so God gives good things to those that ask Him, not always what they ask, for they often ask amiss, but something far better, even, as St. Luke’s version has it, ’the Holy Spirit.’ Those who would obtain exactly what they ask, must conform their wills to God’s, and ask for things which they know that He is willing to grant. St. Luke connects this section with the Lord’s Prayer, and illustrates it further by the parable of the Friend at Midnight. The connexion in St. Luke is much more natural and suitable.
7. Ask.. seek.. knock] A climax of increasing urgency. We are to wrestle with God in prayer, as Jacob wrestled with the angel (perhaps with God Himself), and said, ’I will not let thee go, except thou bless me’ (Genesis 32:26). The lesson is, ’That men ought always to pray and not to faint’ (Luke 18:1).
9, 10. Bread.. stone.. fish.. serpent] A stone is like a loaf, and a serpent is like a fish, especially some fishes. The idea is that God will not mock an earnest suppliant, by appearing to answer his prayer, and giving him something which, though apparently good, is really noxious.
11. Being evil] Christ took no roseate view of the characters of men, even after their profession of faith in Him.
12. THE GOLDEN RULE (Luke 6:31). This v. ought to form a distinct paragraph. Our Lord looks back to what He has been saying in Matthew 5 about the fulfilling of the Law, and sums up His teaching on the whole subject with this important practical maxim. As originally spoken, it probably formed part of our Lord’s utterances upon the Law, as it still does in St. Luke, who brings it into connexion with the command, ’Love your enemies’: see Matthew 5:44. There are certain parallels to this saying. Once a would-be proselyte went to Rabbi Hillel and demanded to be taught the whole Law while he stood upon one leg. The good rabbi made him a proselyte, saying, ’What is hateful to thyself, that do not thou to another. This is the whole law, the rest is commentary. Go, thou art perfect.’ The pious Tobias thus instructs his son Tobit (Tobit 4:15), ’What thou thyself hatest, do thou to no man.’ The Chinese sage Confucius is reported to have said, ’Do not to others what you would not wish done to yourself.’ All these are noble sayings, but they fall far short of Christs golden rule, which means, ’Not only avoid injuring your neighbour, but do him all the good you can.’ They simply forbid injuries: Christ commands active benevolence.
A saying ascribed to the Gk. philosopher Aristotle is closer in form to the Golden Rule than any other, but it applies only to friends. Aristotle was once asked how we should act towards our friends, and replied, ’As we would that they should act towards us.’
12. Therefore all things] The ’therefore’ looks back to Christ’s teaching about the Law. The sense is, ’Because ye are my disciples, and bound to understand the OT. in its higher and more spiritual sense, therefore do unto others all that you would they should do unto you, for this is the true meaning of the Law and the Prophets.’
13, 14. The broad way and the narrow way (Luke 13:24-27). Although it is a blessed thing to be a Christian, it is not easy. The Christian journeys along the narrow way of self-denial discipline and mortification, perhaps of contempt and persecution, but the end of it is life. Much easier is the broad way of selfindulgence, avarice, pride and ambition, but the end of it is death. How many choose death, rather than life! St. Luke speaks only of the narrow ’door,’ not of the narrow way, and describes the terrible condition at the last day of those who have not entered it. There is a fine heathen parallel in the allegory called ’the Tablet,’ by Cebes, a disciple of Socrates: ’Seest thou not a certain small door, and a pathway before the door, in no way crowded, for only a very few travel that way, since it seems to lead through a pathless, rugged, and stony tract? That is the way that leadeth to true discipline.’ There is another in the philosopher Maximus of Tyre (150 b.c.): ’There are many deceitful bypaths, most of which lead to precipices and pits, and there is a single narrow straight and rugged path, and few indeed are they who can travel by it.’
13. The strait gate] RV ’the narrow gate.’ St. Matthew’s word means a city gate, St. Luke’s a small gate or door. Even city gates are exceedingly narrow in the East. For wide is the gate] Several modern editors omit the words ’is the gate.’
14. Strait] RV ’narrow.’ Narrow] RV ’straitened.’ Few there be that find it] lit. ’few be they who are finding it.’ In St. Luke the disciples definitely ask, ’Lord, are they few that be saved?’ but Jesus avoids a direct answer, bidding them look to themselves, and take care that they themselves enter by the narrow door. So here Jesus does not solve the mystery of the ultimate destiny of human souls. He refuses to say what proportion of mankind will be finally lost or saved, but he does say that the majority of men do not, in this world at least, choose the narrow way that leads to life. Whether after this life God will interpose to save them from their doom, and will apply to them some chastening discipline which may bring them to a better mind is not revealed. It may be so. Holy Scripture contains certain hints in this direction (1 Peter 3:19; 1 Peter 4:6), but nowhere gives any clear hope, lest men should be encouraged to neglect their opportunities of repentance in this life: see on Matthew 12:32.
15-20. How to detect false prophets and hypocrites in general (Luke 6:43-45). The gift of prophecy was widely diffused in the Apostolic Church, so that the warning against false prophets was needed, but the word is intended to include hypocritical Christian teachers of all kinds. How can they be known? Not always by their doctrine, which, when it suits their purpose, is orthodox, but by their works, especially by their covetousness, which is the unfailing characteristic of false prophets.
The ’Didache’ has some interesting remarks about the false prophets of the sub-apostolic age. ’Let every apostle (itinerant missionary) that comes to you, be received as the Lord. He will remain one day, and if necessary, two. If he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes forth from you, let him receive nothing but bread for his day’s journey. If he asks money, he is a false prophet... A prophet who in the Spirit orders a table to be laid, shall not eat of it himself. If he does, he is a false prophet.’ The modern representative of the false prophet is the minister or teacher who works for hire or popularity.
15. False prophets] Not the Pharisees, but Christian false prophets and teachers, as is clear from Matthew 7:22: cp. also Matthew 24:11, Matthew 24:24; 1 John 4:1.
Sheep’s clothing] Not the official rough garb of prophets, as in Hebrews 11:37, but the disguise of those who wish to pass for sheep, i.e. for Christians. The sheep’s clothing is the hypocritical professions and the outward ordination of the false teacher.
16. Fruits] Not doctrines, but works, or moral character, as always in NT.
17-19. Our Lord echoes and reinforces the Baptist’s teaching: see on Matthew 3:1-12.
21-23. The punishment of false prophets, and of all hypocrites. Our Lord carries us forward in thought to the day of judgment. Even then the false prophets will pretend to be sheep. They will say, ’Lord, Lord,’ and plead their successful ministerial labours. But our Lord will say, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
21. Lord, Lord] During His earthly ministry Jesus was generally addressed as ’Rabbi,’ Teacher. Here He claims the higher title of ’Lord,’ but in what sense? Clearly as implying sovereignty over the universe, which was the sense in which it was applied to Jesus in the Apostolic Church: Acts 10:36; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 2:11.
Kingdom of heaven] Here used of the final bliss of heaven. He that doeth] Everywhere in NT. it is said that men will be judged according to their works, not according to their faith or profession (Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:35; Romans 2:6; 1 Corinthians 3:8; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 2:23; Revelation 22:12,; etc.). If faith is to justify, it must be a living faith which issues in good works.
22. Cast out devils.. wonderful works] There is no reason to suppose that this claim to successful ministerial work is unfounded. It is a fact that God does sometimes, for the sake of the flock, condescend to bless the work of evil shepherds, whose lives are not openly scandalous, and in general, we may say that ’the unworthiness of the ministers hinders not the effect of the sacraments.’ Of course the best and truest work cannot be done by such men.
23. I never knew you] i.e. as true disciples: cp. Luke 13:27. The divinity of Christ appears not only from His office of judge, but from His power to read the heart. He claims that the most secret thoughts of the millions of the human race are naked and open before Him, and this is in effect, a claim to be divine.
24-27. The true foundation for all permanent spiritual building (Luke 6:46-49). The great sermon concludes with a parable. Two men built houses near a watercourse. One dug deep and reached the rock, the other built upon the sand (i.e. the alluvial deposit of the watercourse). In the winter there was a flood, and the house built on the sand collapsed. The rock is Christ’s own person and teaching, the only foundation for stable, spiritual and social building. Whatever is built upon that rock, lasts. Personal character built up on Christ, i.e. on faith in Him and loyal obedience to His commands, is stable. Men can count upon it, for they feel its strength as well as its gentleness. Societies or states, based on the supremacy of Christ’s moral law, last. They have in them the elements of stability, prosperity, and progress. The Christian Church itself is the greatest example of this permanence and progress. Established originally by men who had dug down to the rock and based themselves on faith in Christ’s divinity and absolute self-surrender to His service (see Matthew 16:18), it became a spiritual fabric which has outlasted the fall of empires, has spread to the most distant lands, and bids fair to fulfil the promise of its Founder that the gates of hell (i.e. of death or destruction) shall not prevail against it.
24. Doeth] Again the stress upon ’doing’: see James 1:22.
25. Floods] There are hardly any rivers in Palestine except the Jordan, but there are many watercourses or winter-torrents (Heb. nahal, AV ’brook,’ Arab. wâdy). These are mostly quite dry in the summer, but in the winter are full of muddy torrent-water, which descends with great violence, and often overflows its banks: cp. Job 6:15.; The foolish man in the parable had built his house either in or close by the channel of one of these wâdys, without thought of the winter rains.
28, 29. Effect of the sermon.
29. Not as the scribes] RV ’not as their scribes’: see prefatory remarks to Matthew 5. The scribe relied entirely on tradition. Hence he was compared to a cemented cistern which held every drop of water put into it. So enamoured were the Jews of tradition, that they would hear nothing else even from a man so great as Hillel. It is said that though Hillel discoursed of a matter all day long, yet his hearers received not his doctrine, till at last he said, ’So I heard from Shemaiah and Abtalion.’
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Matthew 7". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20