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Bible Commentaries

Arno Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
Matthew 7

 

 

Verses 1-29

CHAPTER 7

1. The Judgment of Righteousness.(Matthew 7:1-14.)
2. Warning against False Prophets.(
Matthew 7:15-20.)
3. Warning against False Professors. (
Matthew 7:21-29.)

The chapter which follows contains the last words of the great discourse of our Lord. The contents of this chapter are very instructive and form a most fitting end of the declaration of the King. The first few verses contain a warning against judging. We have in the beginning of the chapter something which is altogether different from the last section of the sixth chapter. There we saw the heir of the Kingdom in the midst of the world, how he is to trust in and depend on the Father and seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, his walk undivided and depending. When our Lord begins with “Judge not, that ye be not judged” He directs the attention to the conduct of the disciple towards his fellow disciple. The conduct towards those who are enemies, who despitefully use and persecute the heirs of the Kingdom was mentioned by our Lord before. It is the relation they were to show one towards the other He touches upon now. The principle of this relation is love. In Matthew of course it could not be mentioned in full. In the Gospel of John our Lord leads His disciples into the fullness of it, which here is but indicated, and in the First Epistle of John these precious things are still more unfolded. After He had, as the Lord and Teacher, washed the disciples’ feet, He told them that they ought to wash one another’s feet. This is the opposite from that against which He warns here, sitting upon judgment against the other and exposing one another’s faults.

But we ask, what does our Lord mean, when He says: “Judge not, that ye be not judged; for with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you”? Does He in these words forbid the judging of outward actions or the present evil? Some have taken it in this sense and gone into that looseness against which the Lord warns later (Matthew 7:6). The Lord does not forbid here the judging of actions and evil. If He did, His words would clash with numerous statements in the Epistles. For instance, we read in Corinthians: “For what have I to do with judging those outside also? Yea, do not ye judge them that are within? But those without God judges. Remove the wicked persons from among yourselves” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). It is evident from these words, as well as from the order our Lord has laid down, to proceed with a brother who has sinned (Matthew 18:15-18), that the individual believer as well as the assembly has a right to judge evil actions. Furthermore, in this very chapter our Lord declares, “By their fruits ye shall know them;” how, then, could we know them if it were not by ourselves judging the persons on account of their evil actions? Certainly judging of things which surround us, as well as persons, when it is our plain duty to do so, is nowhere forbidden. Contending earnestly for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, to which we are exhorted in these days of falling away, carries with it the necessity of judging that which, in man-made systems as well as in persons, is offensive to God and dishonoring to our Lord. The words which demand the separation from that which is evil presupposes judging likewise. This solemn duty we have as believers, in the midst of a perverse generation, standing as we do, at the close of this dispensation. It is to be exercised as in the fear of the Lord and with the single eye to His glory and the honor of His name. Easily and quickly made is the step from the judging, which is duty, to that censoriousness, fault-finding and all that follows, against which our Lord warns and which is sinful.

But what is the meaning of the words “Judge not”? Our Lord forbids the judging of motives, the spring from which actions result. I have no right to judge that which is not manifested to mine eyes. Motives are concealed and known to God alone. He who in censoriousness continually judges his brother’s motives and in a fault-finding spirit sits in judgment upon him, assumes the place of the judge, which does not belong to him, but to the Lord only. Two passages, perhaps, from Romans and Corinthians explain the judging which our Lord condemns: “One man is assured that he may eat all things; but the weak eats herbs. Let not him that eats make little of him that eats not; and let not him that eats not judge him that eats: for God has received him. Who art thou that judgest the servant of another? to his own master he stands and falls. ... But thou, why judgest thou thy brother? or again, thou, why dost thou make little of thy brother? for we shall all be placed before the judgment seat of God. ... Let us no longer therefore judge one another; but judge ye this rather, not to put a stumbling-block or a fall-trap before his brother” (Romans 14:3-13). “So that do not judge anything before the time, until the Lord shall come, who shall also both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and shall make manifest the counsels of hearts; and then shall each have his praise from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5).

And how true it is what our Lord says: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you.” This is a law, from which the believer cannot escape. A law like that other one in Galatians, “Be not deceived: God is not mocked; for whatever a man shall sow, that shall he reap.” Many a one has found out the swift working of this law, “With what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you.” Many will have yet to learn by sad experiences and much heartache that the execution of this law is never slow. The word was quickly spoken which censured a brother’s motives, which belittled him (to lift up the self of the accuser), but it will not take very long, and some one will step up with the same measure and the same judgment and do the same to us. Nothing is so detrimental to spirituality than a habitual censoriousness.

And why, then, do men see the little mote in their brother’s eye? Because they do not see the great beam in their own.

If the saint But judges himself he will surely not be forever occupied with seeing the mote in the Brother’s eye. He will be patient, loving and not surmise always evil. “Love does not impute evil ... beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

In the sixth verse our Lord warns against the other extreme, which is looseness, the abuse of His grace: “Give not that which is holy to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them with their feet and turn round and rend you.” (That incorrect paraphrase called “the Twentieth Century New Testament” has seen fit to put part of this verse in a more refined [? !] language. They translate, “Do not give what is sacred to dogs; nor yet throw your pearls before pigs.” How ridiculous!) A person misunderstanding the “judge not” may allow evil to go unjudged, and therefore that which is holy and the pearls become defiled and are trampled under feet by dogs and swine -- unconverted persons, though perhaps outward professors (see 2 Peter 2:22). To apply the passage to the preaching of the Gospel to the unsaved and to those sunk the deepest in vice would be incorrect. It has no reference to the preaching of the Gospel. We should, however, always guard against any irreverent use of the word of God and the blessed things made known in it.

In Matthew 7:7-11 we have the familiar words of our Lord telling us to ask of Him, with the assurance that every one that asketh receiveth. The connection is obvious. In looking at the injunctions our Lord gives not to judge and not to abuse, what He has given, one feels the need of wisdom. Intercourse with God in prayer supplies this need. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask God that giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).

And what an invitation is here put before us! How simple and definite the language! How plain it all is with no “if” or “but” added to it. Happy he who takes all these words in their simple meaning and ever uses the royal offer in faith. Of course we would not look in Matthew for the fullest teaching on prayer in His name nor could the words here, “Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you,” be applied to anyone else but believers. This is clear from the words: “If ye then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to those that ask Him.” In Luke 11:1-54 we read the same word, but there it says, “give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.” The prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit, however, is no longer in order, for the Comforter has come, and no believer has a right now to ask upon this promise for the Spirit.

The 12th verse (Matthew 7:12) in this chapter is one of the most misapplied in the whole discourse of our Lord. “All things, therefore, whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, thus do ye also to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” This, many professing Christians and others, who make no profession at all, call the golden rule. How many, Jews and Gentiles, have told us that this is the religion they believe in. It is even claimed that in the “sacred” books of the East, the religious products of Buddhism and Brahmanism, something similar is found. (Jews claim the same for the Talmud because Hillel taught “What thou wouldst not wish for thyself, do not unto thy neighbor. This is the whole law.” -- Talmud, Sabb. 31.)

Yet with all this boast in a rule which they do not understand, no one keeps it nor would think of keeping it. The Lord gives this practical word to the true disciple. He who is born again is born of God. He has the nature of God and that is love. “He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. ... Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:8 and Romans 13:10). “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 John 3:11). “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We see then that the terse saying our Lord puts in the chapter is not out of keeping with the whole. The outcome of intercourse with God spoken of in Matthew 7:7-11 will be, acting in love.

This is followed by an exhortation such as He who is from above alone could give and with it the first half of the seventh chapter closes. “Enter ye in through the narrow gate: for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth unto destruction, and many there are that enter through it; because narrow is the gate and straitened is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there are that find it.” It is the well-known Gospel text, though not always correctly applied. The gate (door) and the way is Christ Himself. “I am the door of the sheep; by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved” (John 10:1-42). “I am the way ... no man cometh unto the Father but by me” (John 14:1-31). And why then is the gate narrow? Not because certain conditions and hard terms are to be fulfilled, but because man does not want to give up his own righteousness and clinging still to his miserable, filthy rags, he refuses God’s way and God’s door of salvation, which is Christ and Christ alone. Ah, the devices of Satan ever multiplying to keep men away from entering in through the narrow gate! The broad way that leads to destruction was never so thronged in the history of Christendom with such masses of professing, self-righteous, moral, educated, but Christ and the blood rejecting “Christians” as in these days, and still the word is true of the narrow gate and the straitened way that “few there are that find it.”

In His closing words our Lord gives a most solemn warning against false prophets, and makes a contrast between the false professor and the true possessor. “Beware of false prophets, such as come to you in sheep’s clothing, but within are ravening wolves!” (Matthew 7:15). Let us notice first of all that this warning has a special significance for the closing of the age, that is, the ending of this dispensation, the seven years of tribulation and sorrow in the earth. We only need to turn to the Olivet discourse (Matthew 24:1-51) in which our Lord answers the question of His disciples concerning the consummation of the age. When they asked about this ending of the age they surely meant nothing else but the Jewish age, for of a Christian age they knew nothing. In answer our Lord gives, describing the events which fall into the seventieth week of Daniel, He says: “And many false prophets shall arise.” These false prophets will make their appearance during the great tribulation, no doubt under the leadership of the false prophet, the Beast, so prominent in the book of Revelation. That there have been throughout this dispensation false prophets in sheep’s clothing and that they are more numerous now than they have ever been before we need hardly mention, yet strictly speaking, the warning against false prophets concerns the Jewish remnant in the earth during the time of Jacob’s trouble. Nowhere are we as believers warned against false prophets; we are warned against false spirits and false teachers, which of course, like the false prophets come in sheep’s clothing. False prophets then, after the church is taken, to lead many astray; false teachers and false spirits now while the Church is still on the earth. The false prophets, who will undoubtedly work many miracles and be leaders of the strong delusions, are the visible manifestation of the false spirits which are now at work. When Paul said farewell to the Elders of Ephesus he said: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). How soon this prophecy was fulfilled! Let us remind ourselves of some of the solemn warnings which are for the Church. “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings and oppositions of science, falsely so-called, which some professing have erred concerning the faith” (1 Timothy 6:20). The very errors and false teachings so prevalent in these days are marked out here. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). And how great the increase of these seducing spirits in our day! “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1). The so-called “Higher Critics,” who sit in wicked judgment upon the infallible Word of God and dishonor Christ, the living Word, are meant here. And where are these men not found throughout Christendom? See also the warnings against false spirits in the first Epistle of John. (1 John 4:1-3; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Titus 1:10-11, and other passages).

But whether they are false prophets coming in the future or the false spirits and teachers at the present time, they come in sheep’s clothing. Anti-Christ himself will first speak like a lamb and have a flattering tongue, and all the prophets under his control will follow him, backing their assertions by signs and lying miracles. The story of Moses and Aaron sent by Jehovah, and Jannes and Jambres sent by Satan and endued by him with power, will then be acted out again (Exodus 7:11). In this way many will be led astray. In our age Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, and the false spirits and teachers appear like meek sheep of the Great Shepherd. In the subtle infidelity which denies the inspiration of the Bible, Satan has surely transformed himself thus. There is much talk from their side of “Bible research,” and that their work will help in bringing out the truth, and many declarations that they are sincere and earnest Christian workers in spite of their infidelity in the divinity of the Scriptures, but all this is but the sheep’s dress in which they make their appearance. We think of other false teachers who deny the eternal Deity of our Lord, the physical resurrection of Him and the revealed facts concerning the dead in Christ and those who died unsaved. (We have reference to the “Millennial Dawn Series.” Thousands have been led astray by these books which appear indeed in sheep’s clothing, but within is the ravening wolf who wishes to harm the flock of Christ.) All these soul destroying false teachings come in the garb of truth and light.

Our Lord continues: “By their fruits ye shall know them: do men gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles? So every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but the corrupt tree bringeth forth bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth forth not good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire. By their fruits then shall ye know them” (Matthew 7:16-20).

What does our Lord mean by fruit? Does He mean downright wickedness? There is no question that immorality and evil deeds are included under the term fruit. Many a false teacher began in teaching error in such a way that the error could hardly be distinguished from the truth, but continuing in error he ended with many of his followers in the flesh. Often behind the most subtle errors the flesh is nourished and an outbreak in gross immorality may follow. Yet, if our Lord meant nothing but evil deeds and wickedness, it would be hard indeed to detect these false ones. Satan is not so blind as to peddle his lies around by wicked people whose lives bear the stamp of immorality and open wickedness. He does it in quite another way. We were often told of people who hold the most abominable doctrines and deny the Deity of our Lord as well as the atonement, “But look at the beautiful lives they live! How meek and lovely they are! How much good they do! Do not their lives prove that their doctrine is right and the fruit show that the tree is not bad?” This outward moral appearance and a “sweet” temper belongs only too often to the sheep’s clothing and is one of the devices of Satan with which he tries to lead many away from the truth and into error -- the fruit by which we shall know them may be wickedness in the grossest form, but it means more than that. The word “Do men gather grapes from thorns and figs from thistles?” is the key. Grapes and figs speak of true fruit. Thorns bear fruit which may resemble grapes, but never can they be grapes from which comes the wine which makes glad the heart of God and man. The soul looking deeper (and we remember the warning is for believers) than outward appearances finds soon that the false teacher or spirit is not in the truth. He tests it by the Word, and finds the fruit, the glory of Christ and glorying in Him, lacking. It is a most subtle substitute for the true fruit -- a counterfeit -- and leaves the soul empty. A believer, not much taught in the Scriptures, sent us a few weeks ago a question about a certain publication which was sent to him with the promise of leading him into a better knowledge of the Bible inasmuch as it was devoted to Bible study. We wrote him at once exposing the true character of the paper. He answered, that while he had but little knowledge yet of the Word, and while much seemed to be in favor of the paper which had been placed into his hands, yet while reading he experienced a feeling of emptiness, there was no response from his heart and a lack of joy and peace. This, perhaps, will be helpful to see how a true believer will know them by their fruit.

But in the words of our Lord we have also the most definite teaching of that doctrine, which may be termed the A B C of the Gospel, the total depravity of man, the utter ruin of man, and, therefore, the necessity of the impartation of a new nature. Both, as we well know, are denied by some of the leading preachers and teachers of all the great evangelical denominations. To deny these truths is equal to the denial that Christ is our Saviour. Man is, according to the new theology, his own Saviour. The tree is corrupt, the fruit is bad. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. The tree is good and the fruit is good. That which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.

In the three verses our Lord mentions His own coming day, when He will appear as the One into whose hands the Father has given all things. The whole ending of the discourse brings us into that time. This in itself makes it that great dispensational discourse concerning the kingdom, as we have pointed out in our exposition.

“Not every one who saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father, who is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name, and in Thy name have cast out demons, and in Thy name have done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from Me, ye who work lawlessness!”

That this has no reference to the Church is evident. The Church meets the Lord in the air, and every believer has in Christ’s day to appear before the judgment seat of Christ. But at that judgment seat no mere professors of Christ’s name will appear, and no “Depart from Me,” will be heard from the lips of the Lord, the Head of the Body. Nor does this word here in Matthew refer us to the great white throne. When our Lord says “in that day,” He means the day when the kingdom of the heavens is come by His return to the earth. Then many will be found but empty professors, who in spite of their works and using His name were none of His. From this dispensational aspect, we may well look to our times. The name of Christ is upon many lips, and there are many who speak in His name, and do works of power in His name, yet they are not saved and know Him not. Christian Science, falsely so-called, may be mentioned here as well as others. Not outward profession brings into the kingdom and makes one an heir of it, but doing the will of the Father. This is continued in the last paragraph. “Therefore, whosoever heareth these words of mine and doeth them, is likened unto a prudent man, who built his house upon the rock, and the rain and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon the rock. And every one that heareth these words of Mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. And the rain and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24-27).

How sublime and yet simple is this illustration of our Lord! Hearing first and doing is the way. The rock upon which he who heareth (believeth), builds, is Christ. Other foundation can no man lay. Being in Him we are safe and secure in time and in eternity. The storm will come, and is even now advancing, yet we have a refuge and a shelter in Him, and as He abides, the Rock, so shall we abide. How true, oh! how true it is:

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand, All other ground is sinking sand.

All which is not Christ is sinking sand. Reader! where do you stand, upon Christ and Christ alone, or upon something else -- no matter what -- the sinking sand?

Such teaching, such unfoldings of the purposes of God were never heard before. The Pharisees and scribes disputed together, and expressed their human opinions, but here One spake with authority, so that the multitudes were astonished.

 


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Bibliography Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Matthew 7:4". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gab/matthew-7.html. 1913-1922.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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