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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 7

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-14

Warnings and Exhortations (7:1-14)

Chapter 7 is made up of detached sayings, the most part of which are found also in Luke, under a form "scarcely different but in other contexts.

The logical bond which ties these sayings together is less evident than in the preceding chapters. They are rather a series of exhortations and warnings, leading on to the solemn conclusion of the whole discourse (Matthew 7:21-27). Only verses 1-5, 15-20, and 24-27 are found in the "discourse" of Luke 6, where they have a stronger cohesion.

The main point of the passage in Matthew 7:1-5 resumes that which appeared earlier with regard to mercy (Matthew 5:7) and pardon (Matthew 6:12; Matthew 6:14-15). The one who judges that is, denounces the faults of others will be judged, not at the tribunal of men but of God. To judge others is to substitute one’s self for God, who alone is qualified to weigh the actions of men (see 1 Corinthians 4:3-5). God will "measure" us as we have ’"measured" others with severity or with charity. The parable of the Speck and the Log, deliberately paradoxical, illustrates the thought of Jesus we see the slightest faults in others, while the most enormous faults of our own escape us. If we knew how to recognize that which blinds us, perhaps we would know how to help others. On the contrary, however, we denounce the faults of others in order to cover our own tracks from ourselves and from others. This is our hypocrisy.

This passage is not dealing with the exercise of the kind of judgment whose necessity is recognized by both the Old and the New Testaments (Deuteronomy 1:16-17; Deuteronomy 16:18-20; Romans 13:1-5); nor is it dealing with the discipline which should be exercised in the Church (Matthew 18:15-17). It relates rather to those facile judgments which, without love, we make of one another, and to the subtle poison of the sins of the tongue (see James 3:1-10).

It is not difficult to see a connection between the saying in verse 6 and the preceding one, even if it were made only in the mind of the editor. The two sayings are complementary. Jesus condemns judgment, but he enjoins discernment.

Dogs and swine are regarded by the Jews as unclean animals. It is especially necessary in interpreting this passage to avoid what is often done applying these expressions to Gentiles and tax collectors. This would be wholly contrary to the attitude of Jesus toward them (see 9:10-13). They would apply at the most only to those in these groups who deliberately rejected his word. But it is much better to see an analogy in this double image used by Jesus, Dogs are incapable of knowing the difference between "what is holy" the term seems to designate the meats offered in sacrifice and what is not Swine are not nourished by pearls; they trample them under foot and turn against you, furious that you have deceived them. It is the same with "cynical" men, who have closed themselves against the things of God they know only how to desecrate sacred things, and your regard for such things serves only to provoke raillery and blasphemies. An illustration of this warning may be seen in the care with which, according to the Gospel by Mark, Jesus guarded the Messianic secret up to the very end of his earthly ministry (Mark 1:34; Mark 1:44; Mark 8:29-30; Matthew 13:10-11); or again in his silences, which are in reality his heaviest condemnations (Luke 23:8-9; Mark 14:60-61). One does not show his most precious possessions to the trifling. Thus it is with the divine revelation. There is "a time to keep silence, and a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 3:7).

The Church very early applied this saying to the Eucharist, understanding that it was to be reserved "for the saints." This was an unwarranted narrowing of its meaning. Does it not rather apply to the total treasure of the faith entrusted to us? It is certainly necessary to proclaim this faith, but with the discernment and the unobtrusiveness of love.

The passage on prayer (Matthew 7:7-11) is placed in the Gospel of Luke following a whole series of teachings on prayer, of which it is the conclusion (Luke 11:5-13). In the Gospel by Matthew it stands as a detached saying. Without doubt all the preceding exhortations drive us to prayer, and this saying on prayer should be viewed in the light of them. We are not told that no matter what petitions men offer, they will be granted. Matthew’s entire discourse applies only to the children of the Kingdom, to those who hunger and thirst after righteousness and the mercy of God, to those whose whole hope is in him. They may with assurance ask their Father who is in heaven for every need of their lives. If they seek him, they will find him. If they knock on his door, he will respond. This presumes on the part of those who ask, seek, and knock, an intensity and a seriousness of desire (see Luke 11:5-8).

The parable of verses 9-11 compares the paternal love of men to that of God, and emphasizes how much greater the love of God is. For we are "evil," while he is good. Nothing is told us here of what true prayer is, for that has been indicated earlier (Matthew 6:5-15). On the contrary, the necessity of asking in order to receive is here underlined. We are not told that God will necessarily give what we have asked. But he always responds, and everything that he does in us and for us is good.

Verse 12 is once more a detached saying. It returns to the subject of neighborly love, which is the theme of the whole discourse, and formulates what has been called "the Golden Rule." In a negative form ("Do not do . . .") this rule had become almost a proverb, not only in Judaism but also in the general morality of the time. Jesus was enough of a realist to know how limited our love is, and he proposed a criterion of conduct which is within the reach of all. To the complicated interpretations of the Law in which the Pharisees and scribes delighted, he opposed a simple principle which summed up ’’the law and the prophets," and which would suffice to illuminate our motives and regulate our acts. In so doing, he once more set in its central place the ancient commandment (Leviticus 19:17-18; see Luke 10:25-27).

In the double parable of the "gate" and the "way" (Matthew 7:13-14; see Luke 13:23-25), the total stress is placed on the necessity of choice, on the fact that there are few who "find" the gate and the way which lead to life. These words are to be read as a warning. The way which leads to destruction is broad and easy. Men follow it instinctively, almost without thinking. The way to life is both difficult to find and difficult to follow. It demands vigilance at every moment.

Jesus does not state precisely what the door is, or what is the way. In reality, however, he has been discussing it throughout the entire preceding discourse in the Beatitudes, in the teaching on the new righteousness, in all the warnings of chapters 6 and 7. Now the question is boldly posed: To whom do we choose to belong? Whom will we follow? (Matthew 6:24).

In the Gospel by John we discover what underlies all the affirmations and promises of the Sermon on the Mount: the door, the way, is Jesus himself (John 10:1-2; John 10:7-10; John 14:4-6). He is the one in whom all is accomplished, the one who has opened to us the way of life. But to follow him is to choose the narrow way, to renounce self (see Matthew 16:24-26). It is to give all as he has given all.

Here again it is clear that the ethic of the whole discourse is inseparable from the Person of the one who spoke it, and who alone can achieve for us and in us both its promises and its demands.

Verses 15-29

Of the Authenticity of Faith (7:15-29)

The saying about false prophets is peculiar to Matthew (Matthew 7:15). That about good and bad fruit (Matthew 7:16-20) is found also in Luke 6:43-45.

Who are these false prophets? Without doubt all those who falsify the word of God and proclaim only "visions of their own minds" (see Jeremiah 23:16-32). They represent themselves as belonging to the flock, although their only thought is to devour and to destroy (see Ezekiel 22:27). In this saying Jesus perhaps refers to certain leaders of Israel who lead their people astray (see ch. 23). But he chiefly warns his disciples ahead of time that the newborn Church will not be guaranteed against intrigue and error any more than Israel was. There will be false brothers (Matthew 24:10-11; Matthew 24:24; see 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 1 John 4:1).

One knows a tree by its fruits and a disciple by his works. We have been reminded throughout these chapters that the heart must be changed. Jesus now implies that if the heart is changed it will show itself. The new heart will reveal itself in words and acts. The authenticity of faith is manifested in the fruits which it bears (see John 15:1-8; Galatians 5:13-15; Galatians 5:22-23).

Verses 21-23 are a dreadful warning: the most orthodox avowals of faith have no value in the eyes of God if they are not translated into concrete obedience to his will. One may with his lips loudly profess his faith in God, and even invoke Jesus as Lord, yet deny him by thoughts, words, and acts. Such an attitude is worse than unbelief, for it is a hypocrisy destructive of all true faith (see ch. 23). Jesus has just explained in a whole series of teachings what the will of the Father is for his children. The fundamental attitude of sons of the Kingdom is humility and love. All their acts bear the mark of the One who inspires them (Matthew 5:16). It is important to note that those whom Jesus accuses of "saying" and not "doing" have accomplished all sorts of works. They have prophesied, they have cast out demons, they have performed miracles! But in all these they have sought not God’s glory but their own. They declare themselves to belong to the Lord, but they do not know him (see Luke 13:25-27). They have not taken seriously his holy will. They are "evildoers."

This passage, as the entire discourse which precedes it, shows how vain it is to oppose "faith" to "works." For all authentic faith translates itself into obedience. Just as the food of Jesus was to do the will of his Father who is in heaven (John 4:34; John 6:38), so his disciples have no other reason for existence than, the accomplishment of this will (see Matthew 12:50).

In this passage, for the first time we see Jesus explicitly declaring himself King and Judge, that is, affirming his Messianic mission. He is the one who holds the keys of the Kingdom and will judge the actions and secret thoughts of men at the last day (Matthew 25:31-46). No one can escape from the gravity of this judgment, and it will be the more dreadful as we have received the more. This warning is clearly addressed to those who are his disciples.

The parable which follows in verses 24-27 is addressed to all who hear the word of Jesus. This word confronts them with a final decision. Either they take this word seriously and build their lives on it, or they are indifferent to it, only to find it returning against them at the last day (see John 12:47-48). A faith which does not inform our lives, our whole manner of thinking and acting, is only an illusion and a lie. It cannot endure testing. On the contrary, he who builds life on the promises and commandments of God has nothing to fear from the tempests of life.

Jesus here affirms his sovereign authority. To hear him is to hear God. To build life on his word is to build "on the rock." God is called the "Rock" of Israel in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 32:4; 2 Samuel 22:2-3; 2 Samuel 23:1-5; Psalms 18:1-3; Psalms 18:31-32; Psalms 18:46). It was on the rock of his word, on his faithfulness, that the "house" of Israel was built. In the New Testament, the new "house" of God is the Christian community. Its foundation is Jesus Christ and his word (see Hebrews 3:1-6; 1 Peter 2:4-8; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11).

These warnings were aimed not only at the people of the Old Covenant They were addressed also to the new community which was then in process of being created. To believe on Jesus Christ is to practice his commandments (see John 15:12-14).

Thus is completed the teaching to which tradition has given the title "The Sermon on the Mount." The crowds, the Gospel tells us, were struck by his doctrine, "for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes" (vs. 29). The scribe could only recite and comment on Scripture; but here was a greater than Moses, whose word was clothed with all the authority of God. Jesus himself incarnates the new righteousness which he demands of men. And he alone can communicate it to his own.

Let us repeat once more: to turn this discourse into an ethical teaching detached from the Person of the Savior is to make of it an irremediable condemnation. On the other hand, it would be contrary to all the teachings of Jesus to see in it only an ideal, good for an otherworldly Kingdom of heaven or reserved for a few extraordinary vocations. Jesus intends to be obeyed. To believe on him is to be willing constantly to be judged and called to order by his word. It is to be born into a life of love which he alone can create in us. It is to live from day to day in the pardon of God. It is to exercise mercy toward others, evil as we are, but saved solely by his grace. It is to take his commandments with utmost seriousness.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 7". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/matthew-7.html.
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